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Vandals upend University of Iowa lab
IOWA CITY, IOWA—Hundreds of research animals were stolen from the University of Iowa's Spence Laboratories Nov. 14, when vandals took rodents, trashed computers and dumped chemicals throughout various wings of the facility. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) allegedly claimed responsibility for the theft and damage, which the university was unable to assess at presstime.
IOWA CITY, IOWA-Hundreds of research animals were stolen from the University of Iowa's Spence Laboratories Nov. 14, when vandals took rodents, trashed computers and dumped chemicals throughout various wings of the facility. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) allegedly claimed responsibility for the theft and damage, which the university was unable to assess at presstime.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, and the University of Iowa Police Department declined to share its crime-scene report. But the ALF sent a video of its alleged action to the local media, and e-mails to television and radio station credits ALF with the incident, according to Steve Parrot, director of university relations.
Hazardous materials crews abated chemicals that had been spilled during the incident for several days before the criminal investigation could begin, says Dr. Paul Cooper, university veterinarian and director of the office of animal resource.
Ironically, some of the liberated rodents might have died, according to Cooper, who is responsible for the husbandry of all animals on the campus.
"The animals were treated in a very inhumane manner. They were placed in large groups in translucent plastic tubs with snap-on lids, and it appeared they had drilled small holes around the perimeter of the tubs that were completely inadequate to provide oxygen to the large group of animals," Cooper recalls from the video of the incident obtained from the local media. "The mice were becoming very frantic, and many were wiping heir faces with front paws, which is a sign of extreme stress. Others were running from hole to hole trying to get air, but the holes were too small. I feel a lot of animals died of suffocation."
Spence Laboratories are part of Seashore Hall, which houses the sociology, psychology and journalism departments. The buildings opened about a week after the attack, but the basement of the lab where chemicals were dumped has been closed indefinitely. Clean-up of the chemicals had been finished in December, but the university had yet to determine when the basement facilities might open, according to Captain Larry M. Langley of the University of Iowa Police Department.
The video shows the culprits had keycard access to the building; current and future security measures are being evaluated, Cooper says.
"I never felt like we were flying under the radar. I've been running the facility for 25 years now, and I think we've seen so many changes in people and beliefs and open-mindedness and lack thereof that I don't think there is any area that has the luxury of being complacent," he says. "We've seen worse things on the coasts than in other parts of the country, but we've been seeing break-ins for a while, so it was alarming but not a total surprise."