Animals

USDA halts deadly experiments on kittens for food safety research

A Kitten
Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Agriculture Department said Tuesday that the agency will cease its controversial practice of infecting kittens with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite for laboratory research to combat foodborne illness.

The backdrop: Bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress last month to end the agency's practice. The department’s Agricultural Research Service has been using this practice to study the parasite it says is the leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the U.S. NBC News reported that since 1982, the agency had also been feeding cats with dog and cat remains obtained from "Asian meat markets." The USDA said it hasn’t infected any kittens in its facilities since last September, and the cats that were never infected will be available for adoption.

Humans threaten chimpanzees' behavioral diversity

Chimpanzees in the Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire, vocalize with another party nearby. Photo: Liran Samuni/Taï Chimpanzee Project

Human disturbance that is shrinking the habitat for chimpanzees is also reducing their behavioral diversity, a key component to biodiversity that previous studies had not examined.

Why it matters: Like humans, chimpanzees learn new skills, including the use of tools for feeding and communication gestures, in group settings. By shrinking their habitat in equatorial Africa through deforestation and reducing their numbers through poaching and other activities, a new study published Thursday in Science shows that we may be reducing an under-appreciated aspect of chimpanzee biodiversity: how animals behave.