Led by a professor whose car was set on fire last month in an anonymous attack, more than 400 UCLA scientists and their supporters rallied on campus Wednesday to defend research using animals and to protest the violent tactics of some opponents.
At almost the same time, about 40 critics of animal research demonstrated just across Westwood Boulevard from the pro-research gathering, and the two groups briefly traded slogans before marching to different UCLA plazas. Police reported no violence and no arrests.
With signs proclaiming, “Research Yes, Terror No,” the larger rally was organized by UCLA neuroscientist J. David Jentsch. Police say Jentsch’s car was destroyed by animal rights extremists near his home March 7 because he uses and sometimes kills vervet monkeys in research on schizophrenia and drug addiction. That incident, in which no one was injured, was the latest in a string of arson attacks and threats against UCLA scientists since 2006.
Jentsch said his rally’s comparatively large turnout showed that many people wanted to speak out against the attacks and for the medical advances that he said animal research produces.
“Look around you and you will see the brightest minds on the West Coast on this street, right now. They are all here to support this cause,” said Jentsch, who recently founded UCLA Pro-Test, which backs what it calls humane, regulated animal research.
Among the marchers was Dana Gant, who carried a placard that read, “Animal Research Saved My Mom,” a reference she said was to new medicines that helped her mother survive breast cancer.
A UCLA researcher who uses mice and rats in seeking cures for Alzheimer’s disease, Gant said she also attended the rally to decry anti-research violence, which she said shows “a lack of respect for human life.”
This week, authorities announced the felony indictments of two people for allegedly harassing and threatening UCLA researchers, but no one has been charged in the most serious incidents, involving arson and vandalism. On Wednesday, authorities announced that the reward offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the Jentsch car burning had been increased to $75,000.
Besides Jentsch, speakers at the rally included Tom Holder, a leader of Pro-Test, a British group formed at Oxford University in 2006 in support of research, and UCLA professor Lynn Fairbanks, an animal behavior expert who has been a target of threats.
It was clear Wednesday that some UCLA researchers remained frightened by the possibility of violence. Some marchers declined to give their names, saying they did not want to be targeted by extremists. “I have children,” said one psychology professor.
The animal rights activists, who were marking an annual observance of World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week, marched toward the UCLA student union. They chanted such slogans as “Monkey abuser” and “Murderer.”
Speaker Michael Budkie, executive director of the Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now, described the use of animals in research as “inherently cruel and inhumane,” as well as unscientific, because animals do not accurately predict human physiology, he said. He also said UCLA maintains the experiments to garner large research grants and support hefty salaries, contentions the university denies.
Budkie said he supported only peaceful protests; on the advice of his attorney, he said, he declined to discuss the anti-research violence. Jentsch’s supporters, Budkie said, “have as much right to express their opinion as we do to express ours.”
Jill Ryther, a third-year UCLA law student and member of a student group opposing the research told the gathering: “The fact is these atrocities are happening here on campus, and as a student I’m embarrassed.”
Jim “Jingles” Chovanec, 62, who described himself as a retired civil service worker from Ventura, wore a monkey suit and chains, and entered a small cage during the rally.
Chovanec said he suffers from nightmares about lab animals being tortured, describing them as “the innocent and the helpless.” He said the only way to legitimize animal research would be if scientists “could get the animals’ permission to do the experiments, but that is not going to happen.”