Rodents under the Animal Welfare Act
Birds, rats, and mice comprise approximately 90 percent of all animals in the U.S. laboratories, yet they are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) a law that provides regulatory oversight of commercial uses of animals, including in research and testing. Enacted in 1966, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was amended in 1970 to protect the health and well-being of all warm-blooded animals used in experiments. However, in 1971, birds, rats, and mice were specifically excluded from AWA regulations by the Secretary of Agriculture. In an effort to gain legal protection for birds, rats, and mice, AAVS launched Project Animal Welfare Act: An Act for All on April 30, 1998.
In 1998, following earlier actions taken by prominent animal rights groups, AAVS and its affiliate, Alternatives Research & Development Foundation (ARDF) and others filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), requesting that the birds, rats, and mice exclusion be removed. A year later, ARDF and two additional plaintiffs (a psychology student and InVitro International, a company that develops non-animal alternative test methods) filed a lawsuit against the USDA claiming that the agency did not have a legal basis to exclude the animals.
On September 28, 2000, USDA settled the suit and agreed to begin the rulemaking process to grant protection of birds, rats, and mice. This process would include solicitation of comments from all stakeholders to assure that the regulations are enforceable. This agreement with USDA, granting birds, rats, and mice protection under the AWA, was hailed as one of the Top Ten Victories for Animals in 2000.
The guinea pigs and hamsters are covered by the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Regulation has the Subpart B – Specifications for the Humane Handling, Care, Treatment, and Transportation of Guinea Pigs and Hamsters under Part C Standards.
Rodents as endangered species
According to IUCN Red List 2012, 62% of rodents are at low risk of extinct, 4% near-threatened, 16% threatened, 2 extinct, and 16% data deficient. In general, rodents have a strong ability to reproduce and are competitive in the environment. As the number of species is large, there are still hundreds of species are within the endangered level. Their major threat is the harm of escaped or stray cats.
Gerbils are illegal to own as pets in California and Hawaii because these states have a climate similar to the rodents' natural desert habitat. If they escape into the wild, they could form colonies and disrupt endemic flora and fauna.