Johns Hopkins Owl Torture Tests: Confirmed Useless, Apparently Illegal

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Update: July 11, 2022

If you’re an experimenter who cuts into and torments owls for a living, did so illegally for years, and was then barred by your state from killing those animals, your days of mangling owls’ brains should be over.

But not so in Maryland, where officials have just shamefully green-lit Johns Hopkins University’s deadly business as usual regarding the mutilation of owls on its campus.

PETA neuroscientist Dr. Katherine Roe issued the following statement:

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) is skirting Maryland law, with the complicity of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR), to continue invasive and deadly brain experiments on owls.

There’s no dispute that JHU broke the law by conducting these tests for four years without having mandatory state permits—and taxpayers have been footing the bill to the tune of $1.9 million. After PETA exposed this illegal activity, MD DNR issued a new permit, which JHU also violated by killing owls. The department then issued another permit that specifically barred the killing of these animals, which should have ended the experiments. However, it appears that MD DNR has now colluded with or bowed to pressure from JHU to circumvent the law by issuing the school a separate new permit that allows for business as usual. It’s not clear that this permit is legal, and PETA will be reviewing the situation.

JHU is also falsely claiming that experiments, which have resulted in no benefits to a single human, are important to the understanding of human autism, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—almost throwing in the common cold—even though psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and people with common sense are saying that they absolutely are not. The experiments—which involve cutting into barn owls’ skulls, implanting electrodes in their brains, forcing the birds into plastic tubes or jackets so cramped that they can’t move their wings, clamping their eyes open, and bombarding them with sounds and lights for up to 12 hours—will continue for the present, despite their worthlessness. The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) own analysis tool (“Translation” tab) indicates that JHU’s owl experiments have a shockingly dismal 5% “approximate potential to translate” to human health, and PETA caught experimenter Shreesh Mysore admitting that attaching bolts to animals’ skulls in order to hold their heads in an unnaturally fixed position might cause him to “misinterpret what’s happening or misunderstand” the results.

NIH must immediately cut funding for JHU’s experiments on owls or risk being complicit in the blatant corruption of science and the law.

Update: June 16, 2022

After PETA informed Maryland state Sen. Ben Kramer of the cruel, wasteful, and illegal activities conducted by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) owl experimenter Shreesh Mysore, the lawmaker sent powerful letters to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and JHU to demand an end to the torture tests on these sensitive birds.

Mysore—who from 2015 to 2018 failed to obtain mandatory permits to possess barn owls legally for use in his experiments and who admitted in his federal funding application his plan to kill the owls, even though doing so would void his legally required “Scientific Collecting” permits—has received more than $1.9 million in taxpayer money from NIH to mutilate owls’ brains.

Kramer asserts in his letters that Mysore is not exempt from Maryland law and should refund the taxpayer money he spent on illegal activities, be barred from receiving future federal funding for these experiments on owls, and have his current MD DNR permit revoked if he’s continuing to kill owls in his tests after that agency explicitly barred him from doing so on May 12, 2022.

Update: June 9, 2022

After PETA wrote to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources inquiring how Shreesh Mysore has been allowed to kill owls in his Johns Hopkins University laboratory—given that state law prohibits permit holders like him from killing wildlife—the agency has revoked Mysore’s current permit and issued a new one that forbids him from killing birds for his inhumane experiments. This should end his torment of birds at JHU! Read more about this significant development here.

Update: February 23, 2021

Shreesh Mysore may treat barn owls like unfeeling pieces of lab equipment, but they’re a protected species. So experimenters in Maryland must obtain permits to lock them in their laboratories. However, when PETA requested proof of Mysore’s permits through the state’s Freedom of Information Act, we discovered that the ones for 2015 through 2018 were missing. Apparently, neither Mysore nor anyone else in his lab had bothered to apply for or obtain them.

If experimenters can’t even bother to file simple paperwork with the state, they shouldn’t be allowed to conduct complex brain surgeries on live animals. Given this apparent flagrant violation of state law, we’ve sent a letter to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources urging it to revoke Mysore’s current permit to keep owls in his laboratory and to prohibit him from obtaining any permits in the future.

We’ve also sent a letter to the National Eye Institute requesting that it end its taxpayer funding of Mysore’s hideous and useless experiments on owls. Please add your voice to ours by taking action below.

Cutting into owls’ skulls to expose their brains, screwing and gluing metal devices onto their heads, poking electrodes around in fully conscious birds’ brains—at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), Shreesh Mysore does all this and more, even though he admitted during a seminar that the results of his experiments on these animals in his lab could be misleading. Listen for yourself:

The recent, damning audio recording was included in the complaints that PETA filed earlier today with the National Eye Institute (NEI) and JHU, as was newly released evidence showing that Mysore—a taxpayer-funded experimenter—has apparently violated Maryland law.

In the audio recording, Mysore acknowledges that experimenting on owls whose heads are surgically fixed in place could “change the way the brain is solving problems, and we might misinterpret what’s happening or misunderstand if we do this in head-fixed animals” [emphasis added]. Yet in his experiments, he does exactly this—attaching bolts to owls’ skulls in order to hold their heads in a fixed position.

Johns Hopkins University owl torture
This owl is one of many imprisoned in Shreesh Mysore’s laboratory, where he cuts into their skulls and screws metal devices onto their heads in curiosity-driven experiments with no relevance to human health.

Furthermore, he locks the animals in restraining devices for up to 12 hours at a time, clamping their eyes open and bombarding them with noises and lights—just like in the sci-fi horror film A Clockwork Orange. Only for Mysore’s victims, the torture is real.

It also appears that Mysore violated Maryland law in failing to obtain a legally required permit from 2015 to 2018 to possess protected birds for experiments, which are currently slated to be performed on 50 to 60 barn owls, including six just for surgical practice for his staff.

So in addition to being cruel, these horrifying experiments are apparently illegal and admittedly worthless.

This is why PETA is calling on the NEI to pull the plug on its $1.5 million grant to Mysore and for JHU to end this junk science.

Barn Owls Need Your Help, Too

Join PETA and tens of thousands of supporters who’ve already e-mailed the NEI to urge it to stop funding Mysore’s experiments, which cause owls immense suffering. Click below to take action for barn owls:

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