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  2. Dec 14, 2022

Physicians group asks Colgate University to stop using wild-caught animals in research

Expert calls experiments cruel and unethical

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is condemning research projects at Colgate University for which dozens of birds and squirrels were caught in the wild near the Hamilton, N.Y., campus, used in experiments, and then killed.

The national nonprofit with more than 17,000 doctor members says the studies violate ethical principles on the use of animals in research, which call for projects to be designed “on the basis of relevance to human or animal health, advancement of knowledge, or the good of society.”

In one experiment published in the Journal of Avian Biology, to measure “temperature resiliency” in birds, chickadees and rock pigeons trapped between 2017 and 2018 were placed in chambers that were heated to 91.4 F. Birds assigned to the “chronic treatment group” underwent the heat-shock procedure over several days. After the experiment, all of the birds “were sacrificed … using CO2,” which causes pain and distress in animals and leads to suffocation.   

In another study by the same researcher, songbirds were placed in a chamber that was heated to 109.4 F for 24 hours in an attempt to induce heat shock. Following this, the animals were killed via cervical dislocation, in which the birds’ cervical vertebrae are separated and the spinal cord and carotid arteries, between the skull and first cervical vertebra, are severed. The birds’ necks are essentially broken. The American Veterinary Medical Association has said it is difficult to evaluate the humaneness of the procedure as it does not cause the animal to become immediately unconscious.

In a 2019 experiment conducted by a Colgate University researcher, 10 black-capped chickadees and 10 dark-eyed juncos were trapped for use in behavioral experiments in which their ability to recall the locations of cached food was assessed. These tests occurred for up to a year before the birds were killed so their brains could be studied. 

In May 2021, another Colgate University researcher obtained a permit for trapping 24 wild Eastern gray squirrels and 12 wild fox squirrels in several locations, including Colgate University lands and the Beattie Reserve, which publicly identifies itself as a “dedicated wilderness area.” According to the paperwork filed with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, after the squirrels were trapped, they were used in a test to measure their aggressiveness and social behavior. Afterward, they were killed so that their brains could be removed and examined. 

In a Dec. 12, 2022, letter to Colgate University President Brian W. Casey, the Physicians Committee requested that the university investigate its Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), train scientists, students, and IACUC members on modern new-approach experiment methods, suspend any active approval for experiments using wild-caught animals, and implement a policy prohibiting the use of wild-caught animals in future research.

“Colgate University is demonstrating a troubling pattern of using wild-caught animals for cruel experiments that violate fundamental ethical principles,” said Janine McCarthy, science policy program manager at the Physicians Committee. “Removing birds from their natural habitat and baking them in an oven for 24 hours to mimic climate change is barbaric and absurd,” she said. “These deadly experiments have no translation to conditions birds face in the wild and should have never been approved by Colgate’s ethics committee.” 

Media Contact

Kim Kilbride



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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