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Laboratory Animal Science in South Africa: Past, present and future

The first scientific meeting, relating to the use of laboratory animals in South Africa, was held in Pretoria during June 1970. This symposium, dealing with the production and use of primates and small animals for laboratory purposes, was arranged by the Symposium Secretariat of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on behalf of the National Committee on Laboratory Animals and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Dr W Lane-Petter (Consultant Scientific Advisor to the Huntingdon Research Centre, UK) and Dr CR Coid (British MRC, Clinical Research Centre, Harrow, UK) attended the meeting as guest speakers.

Due to the success of the latter symposium, the National Laboratory Animal Committee of the MRC hosted a second three-day meeting during the period 21 to 23 September 1977. It was held at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Stellenbosch in Parowvallei, Cape Town. Twice as many delegates attended whilst the number of scientific papers presented also increased by two-fold. Subjects discussed varied from SPF technology to management, housing, diseases, ethics, training, unusual species, primatology, and animal models for disease. International acclaimed speakers that attended were Dr Geoffrey Bourne and Dr Nelly Golarz de Bourne (both from the Yerkes Regional Primate Center, Emory University, Atlanta, USA), Prof. Willi Heine and Dr Friedrich Deerberg (Zentralinstitut für Versuchstiere, Hannover, Germany – the latter from their Abteillung Patologie), Prof Cluff Hopla (Dept. of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, USA – ICLAS President), Maj Walter Scott (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Hertfordshire, UK) and Dr John Bleby (MRC Laboratory Animal Centere, Carshalton, UK).

An article in The Cape Argus of 23 September 1977, under the heading ” Lab animal technicians may form association” mentioned that: “a steering committee to investigate the feasibility of an association of laboratory animal technicians was formed yesterday. The committee, consisting of Dr W A de Klerk, Mr ME Howard-Tripp, Dr Georgina Crewe, Miss Elizabeth Helm, Mr Chris Joubert, T Zuurmond, F Potgieter and DA Scammel – was formed after discussions about a lack of co-ordination, training and organisation”.

The inaugural meeting of the South African Association for Laboratory Animal Science (SAALAS) was held during 12 and 13 October of the following year. This meeting took place at CSIR Conference Centre in Pretoria. Dr John Austin, the Chairman of the Organising Committee for this meeting, was elected the first President of SAALAS. Dr John Bleby, from the British Medical Research Council’s Laboratory Animal Centre, again attended as guest speaker. Issues discussed by him included the need for a South African lab animal association, nutrition and balanced diets, selection and supply of animals, the role of the animal technician, gnotobiotic animals, breeding systems, and cost analysis and rate setting.

The by now custom, that the international guest speaker at congress also visit and lecture at different animal facilities in the country, also started after this meeting. Dr Bleby was thus not only the first guest speaker of SAALAS but also the first International Laboratory Animal Scientist to visit laboratory animal centres in Potchefstroom, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.