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ARCHIVE : Issue Seven


SECRET ANIMAL TESTING AT THE SABS

In the last quarter of 1994, an article in Die Beeld proclaimed that the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) was no longer using animals in tests and had closed their animal testing laboratory. The spokesperson, Mr. Jo Moller, added that future testing would be conducted at the University of Pretoria (meaning the infamous H.A. Grové Research Laboratory.) This raised eyes at SAAV, as the existence of a research lab at the SABS had been denied by the latter in the past. Some years later, SAAV learned from an impeccable source that the SABS was, in fact, still conducting tests on rabbits at the H.A. Grové Lab, now renamed the Pretoria Biomedical Research Centre, as proclaimed on their new letter head and slogan :"Caring about our Animals", nogal. Thinking that the SABS would perhaps be more forthcoming this time around, if only to try and redeem themselves after being at the centre of a road worthiness certificates exposé by the TV programme Carte Blanche, SAAV duly made an appointment with the General Manager of the SABS, Mr. Knox Msebenzi. The SAAV delegation, consisting of Dr. Francoise O'Neill and Beatrice Wiltshire, was cordially received by Mr. Msebenzi who seemed genuinely honest and open to suggestions. But we were not so cordially received by his sales and marketing manager, scientific services, Alan Cohen, whose aggressive, snide and arrogant manner was hardly conducive to either good sales or good marketing. After questioning our credentials and informing us from a haughty height that the SABS drew up standards for the whole country and after being requested by SAAV that the discussions be conducted in a civilized and professional manner (and no doubt after a short, sharp kick under the table from a most charming Mr. Msebenzi) he settled down . To our surprise they denied that they had ever tested at the H.A. Grové. They also denied ever having issued the abovementioned press statement and declared that they had done experiments at the University of the Durban Westville until that facility had closed down. They maintained that the only procedures being done on animals was being conducted at the SABS in Groenkloof, Pretoria. Indeed, Mr. Des van der Linde happily informed us that the rabbits were used for testing pyrogens. (Perhaps he was out of reach of the well aimed, short sharp kick, because later the same day we were uninformed by e-mail that that had been a mistake and that the rabbits were used only for bed bugs and mosquitoes to feed on - which led us to suppose that perhaps this gentleman, who was said to be in charge of the rabbit testing facility, did not in fact know what was going on there.) On inspection of the rabbit testing facility at the SABS we found the following. The rabbits were housed in small cages where they spent their entire lives, which usually stretched for about 6 years. The floor space of the cages was made of thin wire mesh which seemed very uncomfortable for their paws. (The paws of one of the rabbits was at a later visit found to be quite sore). Nevertheless Mr. van der Linde, who now presumed to be able to communicate with the animals like St. Frances, was moved to say: 'Don't they look happy?' When SAAV asked whether the rabbits could not perhaps have their sentences shortened by releasing them to SAAV after a couple of years, we were assured that this would be done. As to our suggestion that perhaps they could be housed in a communal pen outside when not being fed upon, the ready made answer was that they 'would breed, and separating the sexes would cause the male hares to fight.' The suggestion that perhaps spaying and neutering would be the answer, met with a mute response. But eventually they agreed to look into the possibility of building outside pens. Since that day in July 1999 it has appeared to us that the SABS has no real interest in improving the lot of the animals. SAAV has assisted them with putting them in touch with alternative methods to be explored but for each suggestion there was a glib, ready made excuse, albeit not very well thought out. On a subsequent visit, Dr. Frances O'Neill witnessed a row of rabbits in restraining devices with their ears folded back in clamps to which the glass tubes containing bed bugs were attached. During the feeding session one rabbit showed "sniffling" problems. Of course, with Frances present, the rabbit was given some time to "relax" in the box.

Frances was firmly informed by the arrogant Cohen that it was not acceptable to him that SAAV research alternatives and try to "force" them onto the SABS. Cohen also mentioned that funds were "tight" at the SABS and that the continued existence of the section itself was under question. In his eyes, the feeding of bed bugs on the rabbits' ears was not cruel and he assured Frances that the rabbits were well cared for. Frances was told that alternative methods "had been investigated in the past but were neither successful nor economically viable." She was also told that the SABS would continue to use the rabbits for the bed bug feeding. If funds became available, then alternatives could be re-evaluated. After several unanswered e-mails and one year later, our long suffering, well meaning, proactive delegation began to suspect that , as in the dark past, and despite the affirmative action appointment of Mr. Msebenzi, the SABS had not changed its old style of management and was merely playing games with us. It appeared that they had no intention of improving the lot of the animals. We had heard that the President, Mr. Eugene Julies, was quite open to change and as in any democratic set-up, would be worth appealing to. So we promptly wrote to him, asking for a meeting. The reply, when it came, was a surprise. In it he slated SAAV, amongst others, for "accusing them of breeding animals and selling them to labs." This preposterous allegation was, of course, patent nonsense and smacked of a continuation of the half truths and down right lies which we might be forgiven for perceiving as part of the SABS's ethic. Furthermore, the tone of the letter more closely mimicked that of the Sales and Marketing Manager, Scientific Services, the arrogant Alan Cohen. But a question remains. The letter which was sent to us under signature of Mr. Julies was signed by him the day before his alleged return from one of his numerous overseas visits. This would hardly have given him time to study our letter, call for input and reply thereto. So, who wrote the letter?


TWO MORE LAB DOGS RELEASED INTO SAAV's CARE

Camilla and Anouk arrived in Pretoria on Sunday 11th June. They had been very good throughout the journey in the cramped travel cages on the back seat of our car. We had driven non-stop for three and a half hours and it was dark when we arrived at the Wetnose Animal Rescue Centre where Elmine was waiting for us and where they were to board until re-homed. Their two travel cages were lined with soft blankets and transferred to their communal kennel so as to preserve a measure of continuity. They now had a choice whether to sleep inside the smaller space or outside in the larger space. The next day their socialisation was to begin with walks with one of the Wetnose volunteers, in order to accustom them to the outside world. And Elmine started them on a concentrated course of 'T-touch' therapy with which she had so successfully rehabilitated abused animals. Al that was needed now was an extra special loving home.


 

CAMILLA's STORY

Camilla had been a family pet prior to ending up at an animal laboratory. With her unkempt, coarse coat, she could hardly be called a goodlooking dog. Indeed, she was immediately nicknamed 'vlakvarkie' (warthog) by Elmine who promptly started to look for a special home for her. When Cheryl Bernstein heard about the 'warthog' she immediately 'phoned in to say that she would take her, unseen, as a companion for her other three dogs. Cheryl recalled that the most loving dog she had had was also quite 'ugly' that is, according to human standards. But then Cheryl is herself a rather special person, who rehabilitates sick and injured birds. The day after SAAV inspected her property, Cheryl drove through to Pretoria to collect Camilla. It is well documented how beautiful animals become when they are loved and cared for but when we arrived at Cheryl's house two weeks later for a contact visit, we would not have recognized Mika, as Camilla was now called. The 'vlakvarkie' had a completely new coat, shiny and soft to the touch. And the wildness had disappeared. Cheryl had told us that Mika loved to watch television, her favourite programmes being National Geographic and Tom and Jerry, but seeing was believing and we watched her go into the bedroom and ensconce herself in front of the 'box.' To quote Cheryl: 'Mika is the most incredibly loving dog and very possessive of me. At weekends, we pile all the dogs into the car and go to the park where they run freely. The first time we did this, Mika jumped into the pond and started swimming about joyously. If she had been a human, she would have been laughing out loud."


BIO CON MEN STOPPED?

The drawing to a close of the Apartheid era also saw, in 1992, the hurried privatisation and closure of the Roodeplaat Research Laboratories (RRL), front company for the South African Defence Force's Biological and Chemical Warfare programme. Simultaneously, another 'private contract laboratory' opened just down the road from the RRL, with the unfortunate but perhaps apt choice of a name BIO CON. Shrouded in mystery since its inception, we do know that three of the directors, Stiaan Wandrag, James Davies and Jacobus Niewenhuis were ex RRL. According to public records, all three of them had had a 3.33% shareholding in the RRL (for a R1 666.67 stake) for which they each received R589 702,75. We also suspect that Biocon continued, or hoped to continue, with the Biological and Chemical Warfare programme. Indeed, there also seemed to be a link with CAPE, the Secret French Primate Experimental Laboratory near Hazyview. According to documents in SAAV's possession, in 1992 CAPE was visited by Drs. George Gaenssler and James Davies from the RRL. We are also informed that the United Nations Commission on chemical and biiological warfare twice paid Biocon a visit in 1999. Biocon made headlines in February 1996 when an elderly lady discovered that the beloved cat she could no longer keep and which she had advertised in the Junk Mail had ended up at Biocon instead of at the loving home she had been assured it would go to. Shortly thereafter, workers at the Agricultural Research Council were puzzled by the sudden appearance on their property of baboons and cats that had had their fur shaved off. They suspected the animals came from Biocon because it was the only place close to them that did animal research, a scientist said. In 1999 SAAV described how a Chimpanzee which had been experimented on at the RRL had still had his remains kept in a freezer at Biocon, eight years later. After SAAV's exposé Jackie's remains were hurriedly transferred, deboned, to the Transvaal museum (Read What ever happened to Jackie in Snout 4 and 5). This highly secretive facility never admitted the press. But various rumours reached The Snout regarding financial troubles, allegedly due in part to the fact that one of the directors had misappropriated funds. On 3rd August 2000 the laboratory was finally placed under liquidation and auctioned off. Of course, The Snout was present. What immediately struck us was the similarity to the old RRL building - also built on various levels. And the same atmosphere pervaded the building - the smell of death and animal suffering. It was all there - the operating theatres, the toxicology labs and the animal cages. Some of them, the baboon cages, were stacked to one side, now empty of their cargo of suffering. Only the dog- and cat cages were still occupied by cats and about twenty beagles. There was one large black dog which appeared to be a cross between a German Shepherd and a Rotweiler. But these animal were not part of the auction - they were apparently the property of Stiaan Wandrag. There was the mandatory incinerator for those animals whose tortured lives had come to an end. And not too far away, on the patio which was no doubt for the entertainment of the staff, was a state-of-the-art barbecue facility. Reminiscent this was of the 'Vlakplaas' television video which described how the Apartheid executioners enjoyed a barbecue while incinerating the bodies of their human victims. The mood of at least some of the bargain hunters was summed up by one woman who proclaimed: 'They should have put these people in the cages and made them clean them out themselves.' Which led one to wonder at that special class of being from which most South African vivisectors are drawn, the home grown veterinary surgeon. And one can but wonder at the nature of indoctrination which takes place at the Onderstepoort Veterinary School, which spawns those who believe that animals are there for the use and abuse of humankind.


IN SEARCH OF FORGOTTEN TIMES

Few of the bargain hunters who were present during the Biocon liquidation auction ventured outside of the designated areas. Had they done so, they would have come across mementos of the Roodeplaat Research Laboratories which were stored in a little side room, downstairs, the display boards proudly proclaiming the RRL's heyday as well as the metal restraining devices which had immobilised unfortunate primates during experiments, conducted without the benefit of anaesthetics. Did Jackie's shrieks go unheard while she was immobilised here?





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