Frozen rat art project appals activists

BY LOIS WATSON
Last updated 08:04 19/07/2009

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Animal rights activists are appalled a fine arts student at Canterbury University was allowed to freeze a rat to death for an arts project.

Oscar Enberg had wanted to slit the rat's throat and then stuff its corpse with butter, but revised his plans after discussing them with his supervisor. Instead he bought a rat from a local pet shop and put it in a cardboard box, which he then put in a freezer, removing the animal only once it had frozen to death. His plans to use the dead rat's corpse for an art work were also scuppered.

"For a warm-blooded animal to be placed in such cold conditions that they freeze to death is extremely cruel," said Hans Kriek, of the animal rights group Save Animals from Exploitation (Safe). He believed killing an animal in such a manner was an offence under the Animal Welfare Act.

Instead, Enberg's entry in the university's sculpture show in Christchurch last month was two baby rats caged in a small clear perspex box, separated by a wooden partition, unable to see each other. It was withdrawn soon after going on display on advice from Enberg's lawyer, a university student told the Sunday Star-Times.

Safe received a complaint from a concerned student and in turn laid a complaint with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which investigated and found there was a prima facie case to answer. However, it decided against prosecuting Enberg, instead issuing him a formal written warning.

Enberg declined to comment when contacted by the Star-Times.

Kriek said although Safe understood why the SPCA had decided not to prosecute, it would have liked to have seen more punitive action taken.

"We're appalled that the university would allow this to happen in the first place. Why should animals be killed for the sake of art projects? It is completely unacceptable - no animal should ever be killed for the sake of art. I would have thought people at a university would have had enough commonsense to see for themselves that killing a rat for an art project is unacceptable.

"We are a bit disappointed. There should have been a price to pay for the perpetrator of this act."

SPCA Christchurch centre manager Geoff Sutton believed little more could be gained by a prosecution.

"The fact that an official written warning was issued is reflective of the fact we believe an offence had taken place," he said.

Canterbury University did have a "very robust" process in place regarding the use of animals for teaching, testing and research but because it was never envisaged that the fine arts department would use animals in such a way, it appeared the department was not aware of the restrictions.

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Describing the case as unusual, Sutton said everyone who had learnt about the incident had been shocked. "Everybody, either remotely or directly involved, has expressed remorse. It's been a steep learning curve."

Canterbury University deputy vice- chancellor Ian Town said a lack of awareness of the strict rules governing the use of animals meant the art project was not subject to the university's normal ethic review procedures.

"We take our responsibilities under the [Animal Welfare] act very seriously and we were concerned to discover about this incident," Town said. The university had co-operated fully with the SPCA's investigation and accepted the outcome. It had since taken remedial action to ensure staff in all departments - not just in the physiology and psychology departments where animals were more commonly used - were aware of the ethical procedures.

Town said disciplinary action had not been taken against Enberg: "We felt that the student had been appropriately censured - we've taken this as a learning experience."

- Sunday Star Times

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