Universities have been accused of trying to conceal “secretive” experiments on rabbits.
In the run-up to Easter, campaigners have highlighted the fate of animals that suffer and die behind the closed doors of research labs.
They claim universities are failing to come clean about “out-of-date” and “futile” tests conducted on rabbits.
Latest Government figures show that 9,498 rabbits were used in lab experiments in the UK in 2017.
Disturbing details of some of the tests were obtained by the anti-vivisection group Animal Justice Project from published research papers.
They include rabbits suffering traumatic injuries to their eyes and arteries, being deliberately infected with cholera, and having test substances injected into their ears while imprisoned in “stocks”.
The group claims there is increasing evidence that universities are trying to hide their involvement in rabbit experiments, and animal testing in general.
Each year Animal Justice Project submits Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to individual universities inquiring about the numbers and species of animals they use in research.
Between 2016 and 2019, the number of universities answering the requests fell from 57 to 29.
Of the 22 universities believed to be most involved in animal testing, the number responding to the requests dropped from 20 in 2016 to 18 in 2017, 17 in 2018, and so far just three this year.
More than half the universities contacted this year have refused or failed to provide the information asked, the group claims.
They include many universities that complied with FoI requests last year.
Animal Justice Project estimates that around 26 experiments are conducted every day on rabbits in the UK.
Claire Palmer, founder of the group, said: “In this day and age, with increasing numbers of vegans living compassionate lifestyles, animal experiments like those we have uncovered in universities will be unpalatable to many. Particularly when they involve rabbits – a much loved animal who some share their home with.
“Disturbingly, thousands of rabbits are being used in UK laboratories and universities just won’t tell us what is happening to them.”
The group’s “Missing” campaign, backed by celebrities including actor Peter Egan and musician Moby, aims to shine a light on the “secretive world of rabbit experiments”.
As part of the campaign, Animal Justice Project has staged a “die-in” at the University of Nottingham, with members lying on the ground dressed as the White Rabbit from Alice In Wonderland.
A similar protest is planned at the University of Liverpool on Good Friday.
Examples of experiments performed on rabbits in universities, obtained from research papers, include:
– Sixty baby rabbits being forcibly infected with cholera and suffering severe diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration.
– Rabbits having repeated and sometimes fatal spinal injections to induce a fungal disease.
– Rabbits undergoing traumatic eye surgery before being killed so their corneas could be harvested.
– A corneal regeneration study in which synthetic membranes were glued to eyes of rabbits that were sewed shut.
– Heart disease experiments in which rabbits received injuries to the aorta, the main artery from the heart, and were fed high fat diets before being killed.
– Tests in which rabbits are starved and then restrained for hours by their necks while a fever-inducing substance is injected into an ear vein.
Dr Katy Taylor, director of science at the anti-vivisection group Cruelty Free International, said: “It is shocking that so many thousands of rabbits suffer in UK experiments every year.
“We know the public desperately wants to see an end to the suffering of rabbits and other animals for research.”
A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents Britain’s universities, declined to comment.
Wendy Jarrett, chief executive of Understanding Animal Research, denied that universities were being secretive.
She said: “A few UK universities use rabbits in research, but rabbits overall make up 0.3% of the animal research that happens in this country and only a quarter of that takes place in universities.
“If alternatives to animal research are available and have been validated by regulators then it is illegal to use an animal and the research will not receive a licence from the Home Office. So rabbits are only used for safety testing, for instance to check that a vaccine will not cause fever in babies and children, when there is no non-animal alternative available.
“Of course, cosmetic testing using animals has been banned in the UK for the last 20 years and household product testing is also subject to a policy ban in this country.”