Wildlife research encompasses the study of ecology, management, and conservation involving wild mammals, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and invertebrates. When conducting this type of research, it's important for scientists to understand how it impacts wild animals, their environment, and their welfare. Use the resources and guidelines below to learn how the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use) can be incorporated into wildlife research and how to conduct various procedures and techniques while considering animal welfare. From an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) standpoint, it's key to understand the IACUC's role in oversight of wildlife research as well as how to review wildlife study protocols. Find information below that addresses these topics.
Laws and Regulations
Research with Free-Living Wild Animals in Their Natural Habitat and the Animal Welfare Act
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provides guidance on the Animal Welfare Act's definition of "field study".
Frequently Asked Questions: Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
NIH's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) answers questions regarding wildlife research and field studies under the PHS Policy.
Animal Welfare Challenges in Research and Education on Wildlife
This 2022 workshop held by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) discusses laws and permits associated with wildlife research as well as restraint and handling of animals, transition of wild animals to captive settings, and other topics.
3Rs Alternatives in Wildlife Research
The results below are from literature searches on using the 3Rs in wildlife research and evaluating wildlife research protocols. If you want to find literature on these topics for a certain species, you can build upon these search strings by including animal keywords in the search string. To learn more about building and editing search strings, visit AWIC's alternatives literature searching page or, if you need help finding information, contact us.
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) provides examples of how the 3Rs: replacement (e.g. computer modeling), reduction (e.g. sharing data) and refinement (e.g. non-invasive sample collection) can be used in studies involving wild animals.
3Rs Principles in Wildlife Research
Dr. Miriam Zemanova, ecologist and wildlife geneticist, uses her site to share peer-reviewed studies that have implemented non-lethal or non-invasive methods that could be used as guidance for applying the 3Rs in wildlife research.
Guidelines for Using Wildlife Species in Research and Testing
2016 Guidelines of the American Society of Mammologists for the Use of Wild Mammals in Research and Education
Journal of Mammalogy; academic.oup.com.
Information on current professional techniques and regulations involving the use of mammals in research and teaching including details on capturing, marking, housing, and humanely killing wild mammals.
Guidelines for the Use of Fishes in Research
American Fisheries Society.
These 2014 guidelines provide general recommendations on field and laboratory activities, such as sampling, holding, and handling fishes; information on regulations and permits; and advice concerning ethical questions, such as perceptions of pain or discomfort that may be experienced by experimental subjects.
Guidelines for the Use of Live Amphibians and Reptiles in Field and Laboratory Research [pdf, 42 pages]
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.
These 2004 guidelines address various groups of reptiles and amphibians and provide guidance on techniques that are known to be humane and effective in field research.
Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research
The Ornithological Council.
These 2022 guidelines address techniques relevant to birds and are formulated with consideration to animal welfare and research needs.
Guidelines on the Care and Use of Wildlife [pdf, 70 pages]
Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC).
These 2023 recommendations are for various procedures such as capture, restraint, handling, translocation, holding, and euthanasia of wild animals in research, management, teaching, and testing.