Experimenter Lies in Order to Kill More Birds—Government Shrugs It Off

UN LAB Middleware Label: Title Ends

Animal experimenter Gregory Ebel is getting away with murder, and the U.S. government is knowingly letting him because the career bureaucrats in charge apparently can't be bothered to do their jobs.

Let's see if we can get them to get off their backsides and finally do the right thing.

Here's the story:

Ebel is an experimenter at Colorado State University. He's been capturing healthy wild birds for deadly and worthless West Nile virus experiments for more than a decade. He traps them, infects them with the virus, and watches as they suffer and, eventually, die. He isn't working on a vaccine or treatment. He's killing birds on a curiosity-driven basis—something that in another context might be considered pathological animal abuse.

crows on branch

PETA discovered that Ebel had captured numerous birds illegally, and we contacted the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which has given him more than $4 million for his bird-killing crusade. Matthew Fenton, director of the Division of Extramural Activities for NIAID, admitted that Ebel had captured 37 crows in 2018 without the proper license—against state and federal laws. But Fenton didn't seem to think this was a big deal.

crows in lab

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), however, did. The agency fined Ebel and yanked his 2019 license.

What's in a number, anyway?

We did some more digging and found that in a 2017 grant application, Ebel claimed that he would need only 20 crows and 20 robins over the course of three years for his experiments. But he told CPW that he would need 132 crows and 168 robins per year and then told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that he would need 100 crows and 50 robins.

We asked NIAID to help clarify the discrepancies. Fenton said that the institute didn't really concern itself with exactly how many birds he was capturing or killing for his experiments. This seems an odd response, since grant applicants are supposed to justify the number of birds subjected to each experimental procedure.

So we dug some more and found that Ebel reported two different numbers of birds he had captured without a license. He told CPW that he had caught 37 birds in 2018, and he told NIAID that he had caught 42 wild birds the same year.

We again asked NIAID about this. Fenton again responded that the institute doesn't care how many birds Ebel is using in his laboratory or exactly how many birds he caught illegally.

Fenton's stonewalling was unrelenting. So we went over his head to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) and laid out the facts about Ebel's illegal capture of wild birds and his wildly varying reports of the number of birds he captured or needed for his West Nile experiments.

OLAW didn't respond.

Instead, oddly, old Stonewall Fenton replied on the agency's behalf to say that the matter was closed.

Get off your backside, NIAID!

Please demand that NIAID do its job. Ebel is flouting the law, disregarding NIAID's own regulations, and killing birds with abandon, all while the government is asleep at the wheel. NIAID's apparent gross incompetence and disinterest in accountability is a slap in the face to good government by and for the people. It's unconscionable that the spigot of money that continues to rain down on an outlaw experimenter hasn't been shut off by the agency charged with ensuring that taxpayer money isn't misspent.

Division of Extramural Activities National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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