Vandals leave

Sarah McKenzie

and Nicole Vulcan
The burglars who devastated a dozen University animal-research labs Monday morning got away. So did 75 lab rats, mice, pigeons and salamanders.
University Police have contacted the FBI and the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension after burglars ravaged labs in Elliot Hall and the Lions Research Building just after 5 a.m. Monday.
In addition to property damage and the loss of the animals, countless hours of research were lost in the heist.
Although it’s too early for officials to confirm the total cost of the damage, they estimate the bill will tally in the millions of dollars.
University Police Chief Joy Rikala said an animal rights activist group appears to be responsible for the damage, but does not believe any student groups were involved.
Graffiti tags reading “ALF” found at the scene link the work to the Animal Liberation Front, an international activist group, Rikala said.
In the past, the group has claimed responsibility for hundreds of terroristic acts at universities and businesses around the world. Members of the group, believed to be a loose organization of less than 100, could not be reached for comment Monday.
“This is a sad occasion,” said Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the Academic Health Center. “The University has zero tolerance for this behavior.”
Cerra stressed that none of the stolen animals present a health concern to the public in the form of infectious diseases. Most of the animals were used to study behavior.
University Police Sgt. Erik Swanson said all officers have been notified to keep a closer eye on all animal research labs.
In addition to property, some doctoral candidates lost data that took months to compile, officials said Monday. One student’s entire project may be forever lost as a result of the damage, Cerra said.
Red spray paint reading “Vivisection is scientific fraud,” greeted Sharad Shanbhag, a graduate student in neuroscience, as he walked down the hall to his laboratory at the Lions Research Building Monday morning.
Shanbhag said he left the lab after 2 a.m. — just a couple of hours before burglars ransacked the building. He said authorities told him the suspects may have entered through the roof despite what he called “very good security.” Employees need a card to access each floor of the research facility, he said.
In Room 470, where his research is housed, dried black toner from a smashed computer was splattered on the floor. Luckily for Shanbhag, the primates he uses for brain activity research were untouched in their cages.
Psychology professor Matthew McGue didn’t get off so easy. McGue estimates about 25 pigeons, 35 mice and an untold number of rats and salamanders to be missing from his labs.
That’s on top of incomprehensible damage to equipment: In these labs, where research for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease is conducted, one microscope can cost as much as $50,000.
The burglaries come on the heels of two other incidents involving animal-rights activists protesting research at the University. In February, police arrested six individuals for locking their necks together in Diehl Hall. Another man dangled from Moos Tower to demonstrate his opposition to vivisection a few days later.
Cerra said the incidents will not halt research efforts.
“We will clean up and fix what is broken,” Cerra said. “It won’t slow us down.”