Raiders from a secret group called the Animal Liberation Front broke into scientific laboratories at the University of California, Riverside, early Saturday, spiriting away hundreds of animals in what they said was the biggest “rescue” raid of its kind in history.
There was some confusion as to how many animals were taken, with one source saying 260 and another as many as 1,000. The animals ranged from a single rare monkey to cats, rats, rabbits, mice and gerbils.
The group charged that the animals had been subjected to cruel and unnecessary starvation, induced blindness and painful mutilation. Scientists at the university denied any cruel practices and said they were worried about the animals’ current well-being.
Theodore L. Hullar, executive vice chancellor of the 4,800-student university, said he could not confirm the number of missing animals but estimated that the raiders had done “several hundreds of thousands of dollars” damage.
“Research,” he said, “has been set back years.”
The stolen animals were being used in studies on cancer, eye ailments and human behavior, Hullar said.
“I view this as the result of a vigilante group of self-appointed and self-righteous people who have decided to impose their views on us and on all society.”
UC Riverside police said the raid occurred sometime between midnight and 5 a.m. and must have taken several hours to carry out.
Chief Bill Howe suggested the possibility of “some inside help” because doors usually locked had been opened with keys rather than forced.
The ALF claimed credit for the raid, latest of nearly two dozen similar operations in the United States, Great Britain and Canada in the last few years, through spokesmen from sympathetic organizations in Southern California and Washington.
Report From Raiders
Vicki Miller, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Washington, said the front contacted her and reported that 16 people participating in the Riverside operation had taken a single stump-tailed macque monkey, 21 cats, 35 rats, 38 pigeons, more than 80 rats, 9 opossums and more than 70 gerbils.
She said the macque was an infant which had been subjected to sight deprivation experiments since birth. She also said the tiny primate, only slightly larger than a human hand, had been removed from its mother at birth and kept caged in isolation since then. She said virtually its entire skull was covered by surgical tape and implanted with an electronic device.
David Warren, dean of the college of humanities and social sciences, said that while the sonar device which had been placed on the monkey’s head may have looked painful, “no pain was involved.” The sonar device was taped to the head, not implanted in the animal’s skull, Warren said.
He said the monkey was born on the campus weeks ago and its eyes had been sutured closed. Patches were then placed over the eyes. Warren said the animal was the subject of studies to develop “mobility aids” for blindness.
Miller also said that among the animals taken from the labs were cats with one eye sewn shut, rabbits and pigeons which had been starved and opossums subjected to “brutal eye mutilation before they were old enough to leave the security of their mother’s pouch.”
Normally vegetarian animals were forced to eat meat in nutritional experiments, according to information from the front, she added.
Vice Chancellor Hullar said that none of the animals was mistreated. He said that the sutures that closed one eye on the cats, for example, could be easily removed later with no permanent loss of sight.
Miller said video tapes and still photos were made by the raiders. A package of such tapes and photos was delivered to Javier Burgos, president of the anti-vivisectionist Students United Protesting Research on Sentient Subject (SUPPRESS) at his home in Altadena sometime during the night.
He said it was his understanding that more than 1,000 animals had been taken from the campus labs.
But Lucy Shelton, co-coordinator of the Los Angeles chapter of PETA, said she had been given the figure 260. She said she was told the animals were being cared for by veterinarians, if necessary, and would be given foster homes.
“I don’t know where the animals are presently,” she said, “but it is my understanding they are going to safe, loving homes throughout the U.S.”
She said that although PETA supports the ALF in its opposition to animal experimentation, it does not take part in raids such as the underground group has conducted.
“Both (groups) want to see an end to animal experimentation because it is crude, cruel, unreliable, an old habit and big business,” she said.
But Tamaro Roth, supervisor of animal facilities at UC Riverside, charged that it was a greater cruelty to steal the animals.
Source of Concern
“I want to cry when I see this,” she said, looking at a row of empty rabbit cages. “I have always loved animals and children because nobody else would stand up for them. I know these animals that were taken are now suffering. These experiments are designed to help all of mankind. Those people who took the animals are hurting mankind.”
The raid was carried out in biology and psychology laboratories in the basement and on the first floor of the Life Sciences Building.
Reporters who toured the building saw extensive damage--graffiti spray-painted on walls, computer terminals knocked over and smashed, sophisticated monitoring equipment with wires yanked out and animal and bird feed scattered on floors.
Yellow swastikas were spray-painted on display cases. “Psyc Research on Animals--Bad Science at It’s (sic) Worst” was sprayed on one wall. Near some open pigeon cages the words “Freed ALF” were sprayed.
Two dozen monkeys apparently were overlooked by the raiders. A number of kittens and several cages of rats and hamsters also were left untouched.
Leland Shannon, dean of the graduate division, said that at the university’s own request, the labs’ animal facilities were inspected by the American Assn. for Accreditation for Laboratory Animal Care. He said the labs were given a clean bill of health, except for a few minor problems which are now being corrected.
He characterized the raid as “a violent act toward the animals themselves. Clearly the animals are in worse hands (now) and a worse situation than they were on campus.”
The raid was the latest in a long series of “rescues” and incidents of vandalism by the front here and abroad.
In California, the group claimed credit for splashing red paint on the home and car of the chief of Los Angeles County’s animal control program on March 10. On Dec. 9, 1984, it took 106 research animals and caused some damage at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte.
Last October, murals outside a pork slaughterhouse in Vernon were defaced, and in December, 1983, the front claimed it took several “liberation” actions against Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, including the theft of 12 dogs used in cardiovascular research. Both UC police and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department are investigating Saturday’s raid.