Pound seizure shocks Sri Lanka

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2007:
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka–Requi-sitioning
shelter animals for laboratory use, the mostly
banned and discredited practice called “pound
seizure” in the U.S., is now reaching Asian
awareness through the story of Wussie, a gentle
former street dog.
Told first by Sri Lankan newspapers,
Wussie’s story went global via the Hong
Kong-based Asian Animal Protection Network.
Scientific institutions and regulators in New
Delhi, Mexico City, Cambridge, U.K., and
Washington, D.C. were soon investigating their
unwitting involvement.

Wussie is sole survivor of a series of
surgeries on dogs directed by parasitologist
R.P.V.J. Rajapakse. Rajapakse claimed to be
seeking an herbal treatment for diabetes–a
potentially lucrative field for scientific
exploration, but far outside his usual field.
Related Champa Fernando of the Sri Lankan
organization KACPAW in a May 30, 2007 complaint
to the Sri Lanka Veterinary Council, “On 22 and
23 May 2007, Professor Rajapakse, head of the
Department of Veterinary Pathobiology at the
University of Peradeniya, adopted three dogs
from our shelter, saying that one would be for
his Gohagoda home and the other two for his
wife’s home in Kiribathgoda. The three dogs were
in perfect health. They had been spayed and
vaccinated against rabies, parvo virus, and
“On 28 May 2007, we discovered to our
horror that Rajapakse took them straight to the
government veterinary hospital at Getambe, where
extensive invasive surgery was carried out on all
three dogs by Wasantha Kumara,” the hospital
Wussie “was opened up, probed for a
long time, and then stitched,” Fernando wrote.
“The second dog apparently had her adrenal glands
removed. She died the next morning. The third
dog,” named Polly, “had her pancreas removed.
We took the two surviving dogs back to our
shelter,” Fernando said, “and obtained
treatment for them from the veterinary faculty of
the University of Peradeniya.”
Polly died under treatment.
Rajapakse was the only University of
Peradeniya veterinary faculty member who was
involved in the experimental surgeries, Fernando
“At the Peradeniya Police Station, where
we lodged a complaint, Rajapakse said the
surgery was carried out to do hysterectomies,”
Fernando alleged. “To the dean of the veterinary
faculty, he said that the surgery involved
removal of the spleens and admitted that he had
lied to KACPAW when he took the dogs. However,
it has been established through scanning that
both dogs who survived surgery had their spleens
intact. Rajapakse also said the dog who died did
so soon after surgery, whereas she actually died
the next morning, obviously after much suffering.
“Wasantha Kumara refused to divulge the
nature of the surgery done on the two surviving
dogs when he was asked by the dean of the
veterinary faculty to provide the information,
which was crucial to treat the two dogs,”
Fernando added. “We were compelled to request
the Governor of the Central Province, Tikiri
Kobbekaduwa, to intervene.”
Said Rajapakse in a June 7, 2007 written
statement, “I completely assure and prove that
these three dogs were used for experimentation in
the welfare and betterment of animals and
veterinary medicine. I was doing a trial of
therapy for diabetes mellitus with medicines of
plant origin and gene therapy. In the first dog
the adrenal gland was removed. In the second dog
the pancreas was removed. Nothing was removed
from the third dog,” who was “subjected to
exploratory surgery as a control,” Rajapakse
“Before starting this experiment we
extensively searched for any legal or ethical
parameters in animal experimentation,” Rajapakse
insisted. “And we were unable to find any
guidelines or restrictions on animal
experimentation in Sri Lanka. On those grounds
we initiated the experimentation, with the
available guidelines of animal experimentation in
some other countries.”
Rajapakse’s entire explanation raised
questions. The American Diabetes Associ-ation
warned in 2000 that while diabetics often buy
herbal supplements that they hope will help them,
some herbal supplements can cause harmful
responses, and the effects of most are
completely untested.
Explained Bernadette Mariott, former
director of the Office of Dietary Supple-ments at
the National Institutes of Health, to CNN
medical correspondent Holly Firfer, “There are a
number of botanical supplements that are marketed
in this country and throughout the world as
helpful for diabetics, but we have very little
data on these in terms of scientific clinical
Rajapakse may have been hoping to fill
some of the gaps in knowledge. He claimed to
have published scientific papers on herbal
therapy for diabetes. However, neither
Fernando, ANIMAL PEOPLE, nor animal advocate
Michael O’Leary, an Irish resident of Sri Lanka,
were able to find any.
Immediately evident, however, was that
obtaining the dogs under false pretenses and
beginning the experiments without review by an
Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee would
have violated laws in the U.S., Britain, most
of Europe, and India, and could exclude
publication of the findings in reputable medical
journals. In addition, using random-source dogs
at all in pharmacological research is now widely
discouraged because of the risk that unknown
genetic factors or diseases could influence the
Pointed out O’Leary, “Rajapakse should
be familiar with U.K. procedures, as he claims
to have spent some time in 1985-1986 at the
University of Cambridge Department of Clinical
Veterinary Medicine. The U.K. Animals
(Scientific Procedures) Act became law in 1986.
It would be very odd if an ambitious veterinary
practitioner studying in England at the very time
that the Act came into force would not have got
wind of it.
“Rajapakse in his bio data states that he
is a member of the editorial board for BioMed
Central Veterinary Research, U.K.,” O’Leary
added. “The BMC editorial board provides that
‘Submission of a manuscript to BMC Veterinary
Research implies thatŠany experimental research
on animals must follow internationally recognized
guidelinesŠ Manu-scripts may be rejected if the
editorial office considers that the research has
not been carried out within an ethical framework,
e.g. if the severity of the experimental
procedure is not justified by the value of the
knowledge gained.’ It is ironic,” O’Leary told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, “that Rajapakse did not himself
adhere to those guidelines.”
Sagarica Rajakarunanayake, president of
the Sri Lankan charity Sathva Mithra [means
Friends of Animals], exposed the Wussie case in
the June 8, 2007 edition of The Island
newspaper. Marisa de Silva of the Sunday Times
followed up two days later.
“We are currently conducting an inquiry
into the matter,” Sri Lanka Veterinary Council
registrar K.N.T. Kandaragama told de Silva.
“Once a comprehensive probe has been conducted,
the Council will take the necessary course of
action,” Kandaragama added, noting that he could
not “give a definite time frame as to when the
investigation will be complete.”
Rajapakse told de Silva that he hoped to “take
action against these people who are trying to
defame me.”
During the next few days Fernando and
O’Leary received several e-mails purporting to be
from prominent scientists and scientific
organizations, warning them against defaming
Rajapakse. Checking with the alleged senders,
O’Leary discovered that many and perhaps all were
“It’s not my job to question the origin
or the parentage of the animal brought to me for
surgery or otherwise,” Wasantha Kumara told de
Silva, disregarding that laws and scientific
standards in most of the developed world require
researchers to identify the sources of
experimental subjects.
For example, the U.S. Laboratory Animal
Welfare Act of 1966 established that researchers
have an obligation to establish that they legally
possess any animal they use. The act was amended
into the present Animal Welfare Act in 1971.
Further amendments in 1990 extended the
professional obligation to ensure that stolen
animals are not used.
Observed Save Our Friends Associ-ation
founder Eva Ruppel, better known in Sri Lanka as
Padma, “We have no proper laws in Sri Lanka
banning or regulating the use of animals in
research. But having deceived KACPAW to give
these dogs for adoption while in fact they were
taken straight to the government hospital to be
cut up is illegal even with the present
Said Wasantha Kumara, “There was no
tattoo or identification number on the animals to
imply that they belonged to KACPAW. Since the
animals were brought to me by a researcher such
as Professor Rajapakse, who is held in high
repute in veterinary circles, I just did as I
was instructed. This looks to be a case of
professional jealousy,” Wasantha Kumara claimed,
“as the government hospital gets more business
than the veterinary teaching hospital,” but
Fernando pointed out that the teaching hospital
has all the business it wants.
As well as heading the government
hospital, Wasantha Kumara is a director of Pets
V Care, a firm often hired by animal welfare
projects. A Pets V Care spokesperson anonymously
stipulated that Wasantha Kumara is not on the
Pets V Care working staff.

“Follow the Buddha”

Learning that Rajapakse was due to speak
on June 22, 2007 at the First North American
Parasitology Congress, organised by Sociedad
Mexicana de Parasitología A.C. and the American
Society of Parasitologists, Indian legislator
and People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi
forwarded details of the Wussie case to
conference co-chair Ana Flisser Steinbruch.
“We are presently taking measures
regarding Professor Rajapakse,” Flisser
responded, but at the ANIMAL PEOPLE press date
Flisser had not yet responded to inquiries about
what those measures were.
Rajapakse on June 15, 2007 sent Mrs.
Gandhi his resumé with an appeal for help.
Responded Mrs. Gandhi, “I would suggest that you
resign and go and follow the spirit of the
Buddha, whose foremost tenet was not to kill.”
Rajapakse’s resumé stated that he held a
“Degree of Doctor of Philosophy” obtained from
the University of Cambridge/ University of
Peradeniya 1992.”
“We have no record of the above named as
having registered as a student at this
university,” Cambridge senior records assistant
Katherine Johnson told O’Leary.
Fernando eventually established that
Rajapakse “was involved in something called a
sandwich program, in which he did part of his
research under a supervisor in a department or
laboratory at Cambridge.”
Rajapakse’s resumé and rationalizations
also raised questions about his past research.
“One allegation,” Rajapakse wrote, “is that
some time ago I exported 200 canine kidneys. In
real terms we sent 86 canine samples (parts of
brain, tongue, and heart) to the USDA for
screening for a serious and devastating zoonotic
disease, toxoplasmosis.”
According to a report of the findings
published in a 2007 edition of the journal
Veterinary Parasitology, “Eighty-six street dogs
caught by the municipality were euthanized by
intravenous injection of sodium thiopentone…At
necropsy, brain, heart, tongue and blood
samples were collected and sent” to USDA
Agricultural Research Service biological science
laboratory technician Katherine Hopkins.
Hopkins had no comment when ANIMAL PEOPLE
informed her by e-mail that the USDA Animal &
Plant Health Inspection Service on February 18,
1993 began enforcing the 1990 amendments to the
Animal Welfare Act to prohibit imports of dogs
and dog parts from foreign sources that fail to
meet U.S. tracking standards.
The 1990 amendments have not been
repealed. USDA-APHIS claims to enforce even
stricter biosecurity standards now than in 1993,
but Animal Welfare Institute president Cathy Liss
opined that, “USDA is [now] not concerned with
records or sources for dogs and cats obtained
outside the U.S. For example,” Liss said, “a
Class B dealer in Arizona has been obtaining dead
cats from Mexico for sale as biological
specimens. Records showing their origin are not
required or checked.”
Nonetheless, Liss pledged that AWI would “follow up with Dr. Hopkins.”
“Wussie is fine,” Fernando updated shortly
before press time. “I still see Polly wagging
her tail and jumping up and down. I will fight
this case to the bitter end,” she pledged.

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