Had this crime been perpetrated by a roving band of evangelicals who object to scientific treatment of autism and schizophrenia, you might have heard a lot about it this week. As it is, that would never happen, and it was animal-rights activists who did the damage. Will the reputation of their cause and mainstream activists have to contend with their actions?
Activists occupied an animal facility at the University of Milan, Italy, at the weekend, releasing mice and rabbits and mixing up cage labels to confuse experimental protocols. Researchers at the university say that it will take years to recover their work.
Many of the animals at the facility are genetic models for psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
No arrests have been made following the 12-hour drama, which took place on Saturday, although the university says that it will press charges against the protesters.
Officials know the organization responsible, they negotiated with them, and have photos of them posted on their social media sites in the act of their crime. Should be pretty easy to prosecute them unless the Italian system is too busy working on Amanda Knox’s extradition:
Five activists entered laboratories in the university’s pharmacology department on Saturday morning. The lack of signs of a break-in suggests that the activists may have used an illegally acquired electronic card, says pharmacologist Francesca Guidobono-Cavalchini, who works there. They prised open the reinforced doors of the facility on the fourth floor, and two of them chained themselves by the neck to the main double doors such that any attempt to open the doors could have endangered their lives.
They posted pictures of themselves on their organisation’s website, where they also declared that they would stay for as long as it took to get agreement to leave with all the animals. The facility hosts around 800 animals, mostly genetically modified mice but also some rabbits, according to Martino Bolognesi, a structural biologist at the university. The activists had brought supplies of food and sleeping bags.
But hey, they’re just there to help the animals:
Some of the mice they removed were delicate mutants and immunosuppressed ‘nude’ mice, which die very quickly outside controlled environments.
Oops. Screw the humans, too:
Michela Matteoli, a neurobiologist who works on autism and other disorders and lost most of her own research in the attack, says that she found some research students crying in the disrupted facility on Monday morning.
“It will take three people at least a year to build up the colonies we had of mouse models of different psychiatric diseases,” she says.
There are, of course, plenty of animal-rights organizations that do good work without being totally insane. I’ve fostered pets for some of them in my community. But animal-rights and environmental extremists have proven to be be capable of lots of damage and widespread, documented criminal activity. Yet they rarely get the press, say, a picture of a rude sign at a Tea Party rally might get. Maybe our more mainstream animal-rights friends could muster some loud denunciations of such tactics to prevent further losses of valuable research. A series of posters, maybe, featuring wasted celebrities stumbling out of swanky nightclubs—Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton, etc. “I’d rather get smashed than smash a lab.”
Although, I sure as hell wouldn’t trust PETA with the mice these guys got away with. Maybe we could chill with the credence we give those guys while we’re at it, too, huh Hollywood? They’d kill your teacup pups quick as look at ’em.
As a bonus, April is Autism Awareness Month. Way to go, guys.
(Here are a couple links for helping those affected by autism, while these guys are busy tearing down.)