Federal report alleges cover-up in UAF musk oxen deaths

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Please contact Dr. Gibbens and demand that he take immediate action against the University of Alaska, Fairbanks , for the starvation deaths of a dozen musk oxen.

Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region
USDA/APHIS/AC
2150 Center Avenue
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
Robert.M.Gibbens@usda.gov 

http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/10/11/1860533/uaf-musk-oxen-deaths-should-draw.html

Federal report alleges cover-up in UAF musk oxen deaths

By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press, TheNewsTribune.com, Tuesday, October 11, 2011

FAIRBANKS -- An animal rights group wants the University of Alaska Fairbanks investigated and fined following the deaths of at least a dozen musk oxen at the school's large-animal research station.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report, released this week by the group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, states the animals died or were euthanized because of chronic malnutrition and emaciation.

The report dated Aug. 30 says research staff was told not to contact the attending veterinarian about the health problems for fear of reprisal from the university's Office of Research Integrity, with which the veterinarian was also involved.

The group's executive director, Michael Budkie, has asked the USDA to investigate the school and to levy the largest fine possible. He said that could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

University spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said most of the deaths in the report happened about a year ago and corrective action has been taken. She said the herd today is in good health, and breeding.

Musk oxen are ox-like animals that have a shaggy coat, horns that curve out and a musky odor. It wasn't immediately clear what types of studies the university is using them for. The school's website says its large-animal station provides a "unique facility for research and education" on musk oxen, caribou and reindeer.

The musk oxen deaths represented the biggest die-off from the school's herd since it was established more than 30 years ago. The deaths were blamed on a deficiency of trace minerals like copper and cobalt, which left the animals looking rugged and emaciated, despite the fact that they had free access to hay, Grimes said.

As soon as the problem was identified, the surviving animals were given copper supplementation and the university brought in consultants to try to ensure the problem didn't repeat itself, Grimes said.

One of the big changes arising from that, she said, is a new way of reporting animal-health concerns. The chain of command in the past went from the animal care staff to researchers to the veterinarian. Now, Grimes said, the veterinarian oversees the animals' care and is no longer involved with the Office of Research Integrity.

"The goal is to make sure the animals are being taken care of properly," she said. "We're all interested in the same thing."

The report detailed a routine inspection, Grimes said. The last USDA inspection was done shortly before the animals' health declined rapidly, she said.

The university has not been fined or sanctioned as a result of the incident, she said. The USDA was aware of the situation as it unfolded, Grimes added.

Budkie said Tuesday that the university is saying what one would expect and that he isn't letting up in seeking an investigation and fine by USDA. He received an email from a regional director with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Tuesday, saying, in part, that the agency would look into his concerns and "take appropriate action if necessary."

"They should be penalized to the maximum that the law allows," Budkie said.

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