CPW investigate CSU professor’s research

Laura Studley

In the fall of 2018, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals received a tip that Colorado State University professor Gregory Ebel was keeping wild crows in his laboratory. This was enough to catch the interest of Alka Chandna, PETA’s vice president of laboratory investigative cases. 

After reviewing the numbers received through the Colorado Open Records Act, Chandna claimed that Ebel had not filed a state report for the year 2018, meaning, she said, legally he should not have crows in his laboratory.

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“Any wild-caught birds have to be reported in that report to the (United States Department of Agriculture) but Colorado State did not report any birds. So this is a violation of federal law,” Chandna said. “We know that there were crows in Dr. Ebel’s lab in 2018 and the (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) permitting process requires that if you haven’t finished using the birds you’ve trapped for scientific purposes by the end of the year you have to file a report, but there was no such report.”

Chandna has submitted a request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin an investigation alongside CPW. As of now, the USFWS is not involved in any investigation involving PETA’s request according to Christina Meister, public affairs specialist with USFWS.

The University has defended Ebel’s research in several statements. A statement released on behalf of Ebel by the CSU Public Safety and Risk Communications Manager Dell Rae Ciaravola explained that PETA has mischaracterized Ebel’s experiments.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fort Collins Office located off of Prospect. (Collegian | Clara Scholtz)

“His work focuses on trying to understand the evolutionary and population genetics of how viruses such as West Nile emerge. How these viruses behave and spread is an increasingly common concern (and a problem we want to better understand) due to environmental change, the rise of tropical megacities and increases in global travel and trade,” Ciaravola wrote. 

Ebel has a federal permit for the year of 2018 that expires in 2021, according to The Coloradoan. On the U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit application, Migratory Bird and Eagle Scientific Collecting, Section E requires that the applicant in question must signify that they have a state permit or else the federal permit is not valid.

In an email to The Collegian, the USFWS confirmed that federal applicants need a state permit before submitting a federal form.

According to the records PETA received under CORA, Ebel does not have a state permit for 2018.

In a previous statement made to The Collegian, the University had claimed this as a clerical error, saying there was an accidental lapse in the annual state permit, however, CPW is conducting an individual investigation on Ebel’s research.

“Two permits are required to collect wild birds; one federal permit and one state permit. The annual federal permit was current during this time, but due to a clerical error there was an inadvertent lapse in the annual state permit during the time birds were collected in 2018,” Ciaravola wrote in a previous statement. “Prior to 2018, the researcher had both the annual state and federal permits for collection dating back to 2013. All state and federal permits are currently up to date for 2019, and have been since January 9.”
 
Jason Clay, CPW public information officer, wrote in an email to The Collegian that CPW is currently looking into PETA’s inquiry, but cannot provide additional information at this time. 
 

“As the state’s leading agency on wildlife management, we are investigating reports regarding a scientific collection license,” Clay wrote. “Because that investigation is ongoing, we cannot comment at this time on the details of it. We hope to be able to to (sic.) release more information on that here soon once the investigation has been completed.”

In response to the investigation and PETA’s claims, Ciaravola wrote that Ebel’s research aims to address major health concerns surrounding these viruses. 

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“West Nile, Chikungunya and Zika viruses are all good examples of the general problem,” Ciaravola wrote. “These are major concerns for the health of us all. West Nile virus is unique because we can study key evolutionary processes in the actual mosquitoes and animals that influence it in nature, unlike viruses such as Zika that rely on people and nonhuman primates for transmission in nature.”

Chandna said, despite the investigation, PETA has not mischaracterized the University’s research. 

“He is doing academic experiments which again you know I have no problem with trying to get knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” Chandna said, “But when there’s a body count there’s a problem.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized PETA’s position that this research is aimed to gain a better understanding of how diseases like West Nile Virus emerge. This article has been updated to reflect this clarification. It has also been updated to remove all mention of a USDA investigation, as different sources have both confirmed and denied the involvement of the USDA. 

Laura Studley can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurastudley_.