A Phenomenon Named Viktor Reinhardt: AWI Salutes a Visionary Advocate for Better Treatment of Animals in Research

by Cathy Liss

The Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals amendments to the Animal Welfare Act were signed into law in 1985. The new law contained many significant mandates for research institutions, including a requirement to provide “a physical environment adequate to promote the psychological well-being of primates.” Predictably, industry resisted, and a prolonged struggle to enact meaningful regulations to enforce the law ensued.

Meanwhile, veterinarian and ethologist, Viktor Reinhardt—at that time an attending veterinarian at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center—was busy laying the foundation for a new paradigm in primate housing. Viktor recognized that the housing and care of animals in research needed to change, and proceeded to find feasible ways to make improvements for the monkeys— mostly rhesus macaques—at the Center. He documented the psychological suffering of social primates who were housed in isolation, and the pain and distress of those who endured forcible restraint for blood draws and other procedures.

Key to his influence was that Viktor did not merely document the suffering, but demonstrated viable alternatives. While many in the research community decried the idea of socially housing primates, Viktor carefully and painstakingly pair-housed monkeys so each would have a companion, while group-housing others in systems that still permitted researchers to have access to individual animals. Determined to show that primates would willingly cooperate during routine handling procedures if given the opportunity and proper incentive, Viktor used positive reinforcement training via food rewards to encourage monkeys to approach, develop trust in, and allow humans to touch them without anxiety. Convincingly, Viktor found that the levels of cortisol—a stress-related hormone—in the blood of restrained, untrained animals were significantly higher than the levels in trained animals.

Viktor’s ideas and successful attempts to introduce better housing and handling conditions offered the promise of improving the lives of primates in the laboratory—while at the same time improving the science by reducing potential stress-related, data-skewing variables. In his own unassuming manner, Viktor was facilitating massive change.

Viktor Reinhardt is an inspiration to all those who are dedicated to promoting the welfare of animals. Among his many accomplishments, he pioneered social housing for nonhuman primates, proving that this was not only possible, but quite feasible. The quality of life for countless laboratory animals has been enhanced because of Professor Reinhardt’s insight, determination, and courage to do the right thing for animals.
–Dr. Ron DeHaven, Executive Vice President and CEO, American Veterinary Medical Association, and former Administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

An Early Fascination with Animals
Viktor’s mother operated a bed and breakfast in Mittenwald, a small violin-making village in the southern part of Germany near the Austrian border, with the Bavarian Alps as backdrop. She often recounted a story about her son when he was just three years old. She had lost him, and looking all over, finally located him in the garden studying a ladybug. He was out there for hours just watching the beetle. He wasn’t taught to love animals or encouraged to study them, he just seemed to be born that way.

As a young man, Viktor sought tranquility in the woodlands, spending much of his time there observing and photographing the wildlife. He would collect scraps from the local restaurants and take them to feed the deer. One day a girl of sixteen and her father came and stayed as guests in the inn. A courtship ensued. On Valentine’s Day, 1968, Viktor and Annie were married. Today, if you know one of them, you likely know the other, for they are a partnership in the truest sense of the word—sharing a fascination with animals and collaborating on a number of articles and books.

I have been privileged to have corresponded with Viktor for many years. His photos of African cattle and musk oxen graced the walls of my office long before I met him. My favorite and most telling Viktor story is a comment in his holiday letter that they weren't using the basement of their home because they didn't want to displace the skunk family that had taken up residence.
–Katherine Houpt, Professor Emeritus, Cornell University

Following Cattle Across Continents
Viktor went on to study veterinary medicine at the University of Munich and prepared his doctoral dissertation on the social behavior and social roles of guinea pigs under the guidance of the renowned (and soon-to-be Nobel Laureate) ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, at the Max Planck Institute of Physiology of Behavior in Seewiesen, Germany. Viktor and Annie’s daughter Catherine recalls guinea pigs running around the house when she was a baby. Viktor was one of the first veterinarians to earn a doctorate in ethology.

As a scientific assistant at the Department of Animal Physiology at the University of Munich at Weihenstephan, Viktor became quite interested in animal endocrinology. He worked at a dairy institute studying reproduction and lactation in cattle. “I fell in love with dairy cattle. Cattle’s behavior fascinated me. I learned they were extremely social animals, and had relationships with one another,” he would later remark.

In 1974, Viktor received a two-year appointment to teach physiology at the University of Kenya. For the first six months the University was closed because of political unrest, however, and Viktor and Annie traveled around Kenya observing the animals. “It was paradise,” says Viktor. “Our time in Kenya was our life’s highlight.” Viktor and Annie studied semi-wild cattle, a project they kept at for eight years. They found that cattle develop long-term friendships with the animals they grow up with. They also found that mother cows experienced stress when their calves were artificially weaned too early and taken away from them. Their reproductive performance was significantly better when their calves stayed with them and were weaned naturally by their mothers.

Viktor returned to Germany, teaching physiology and comparative ethology from 1976 to 1982 at the University of Bonn. Viktor and Annie also studied semi-wild Scottish Highland cattle in Germany, and the results confirmed their data from Kenya. While there was scientific interest at that time in comparative studies of farm animals in semi-natural versus intensively housed environments, simply studying farm animal behavior was not popular. Viktor’s outspoken opposition to industrial agricultural practices and involvement in pressing for improved conditions for farm animals would eventually cost him his Chair at the University.

Viktor and Annie left Germany for Saskatchewan, Canada, extending their work on the Bovidae family to a third continent. Viktor studied the behavior of musk ox and American bison, before crossing the border into Wisconsin (and into scientific observation of a new order of mammals) by accepting a job at the Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin. There, he spent the next decade caring for the roughly 1,000 nonhuman primates kept at the facility for experimentation. Viktor was shocked by the conventional single-housing and rough handling of macaques at the Center, and set about to develop and implement change. By the time Viktor left, 90 percent of the animals at the Center lived in pair settings.

Alas, researchers within modern academia are not allowed to simply learn and teach others. They are expected to bring money into their institutions, as well. As applied to Viktor, this business model was nonsensical. Although the enrichments he implemented came at no cost to the facility (his principal tools were compassion, patience, common sense, and trust); although the animals experimented upon were less stressed and therefore data-altering variables were reduced; although Viktor was a prolific author of widely-published scientific papers—he was not a generator of cash for the University. How could he take time from this important and much-needed work to do fundraising? As he had done at the University of Bonn, Viktor stuck by his principles irrespective of the personal consequences. After ten years, Viktor and the Wisconsin Primate Research Center parted ways.

Viktor is one of the very rare scientists who is humble enough to learn from our fellow animals and to act on that knowledge with compassion to make their captive lives better.
–Roger Fouts, Founder, Friends of Washoe, and Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Central Washington University

AWI Enters the Picture, and Viktor Finds a Forum
In 1994, upon his departure from the Primate Center, AWI was privileged to have Viktor join the staff. He resumed his timely and much needed work on behalf of primates, but also expanded his scope, devoting himself to helping all animals in laboratories. Viktor continued as a prolific writer of scientific papers, but he also prepared both bibliographies and databases and began authoring books designed to help others in the field implement changes in the way animals in research are treated. Annie has worked for AWI as well, as an Information Specialist, meticulously examining the scientific literature to include the most recent material in AWI’s databases and working with Viktor on many projects.

Among his other works, Viktor edited eighth and ninth editions of Comfortable Quarters for Laboratory Animals, (and wrote chapters on guinea pigs, sheep, cattle, and nonhuman primates for the latter edition); co-authored Environmental Enhancement for Caged Rhesus Macaques; co-authored Environmental Enrichment and Refinement for Nonhuman Primates Kept in Research Laboratories; authored Taking Better Care of Monkeys and Apes; co-authored Variables, Refinement and Environmental Enrichment for Rodents and Rabbits Kept in Research Institutions; and authored Roots of Human Behavior.

Viktor’s materials have been much in demand by those who work in laboratories. He also found another way to reach out to the research community: In 2002, he established the Laboratory Animal Refinement and Enrichment Forum (LAREF), an online discussion group for the exchange of ideas and experiences about ways to improve the conditions under which animals in laboratories are housed and handled. Ten years on and going strong, the forum continues to serve the international animal care community in promoting animal welfare and improving scientific methodology. AWI has published two volumes edited by Viktor that incorporate key discussions from LAREF: Making Lives Easier for Animals in Research Labs and Caring Hands.

While Viktor’s work is intended to benefit the animals, it is also an effort to awaken those in the laboratory who do not see the animals’ suffering. He realizes that many of these people can only be reached by constantly emphasizing that species-adequate housing and handling are prerequisites to sound scientific methodology. Viktor also reaches out to and encourages those animal caretakers, technicians, veterinarians, and researchers who are already on the right track, seeking to refine the housing and handling of animal subjects. At the same time, he has tried to show—to those who believe that everyone in an experimental laboratory is evil—that there are many people inside those walls who care deeply and are dedicated to doing what they can for the animals.

AWI Laboratory Animal Consultant Michele Cunneen says “Viktor’s great gift to all of us is as a beacon. As a young scientist with a love of animals I found I wasn’t alone. I read his books and joined LAREF, and found his thoughts were mine.” Polly Schultz, Founder and President of OPR Coastal Primate Sanctuary, says “Viktor is one of the kindest human beings I have ever encountered. His obvious compassion for animals is so deeply ingrained in his heart that it seems to spill over into everyone else’s.”

In the fall of 2010, Viktor “retired” from AWI, but this means he simply chose to stop collecting a salary—and perhaps has spent a little more time reading, listening to classical music, and hiking, skiing and camping with Annie. Viktor has continued to moderate LAREF, provide his sage advice to AWI, and is working on the third volume of discussions from LAREF. “For me, it has always been a privilege to be with animals, to gain their trust and to gradually get some insight into their emotions,” says Viktor. “Observing animals is often like looking into a mirror; you learn much about yourself." AWI cherishes our relationship with Viktor and Annie, and is immensely grateful for Viktor's lasting legacy and continuing efforts to reduce animal suffering.

I believe that Viktor’s impact has been considerable and affected the quality of lives of millions of animals. In one way, he has achieved more for animals on a day-to-day basis than devising a new replacement alternative test (that may relieve only tens of thousands of animals from acute pain and distress, as opposed to the very long-term impact of poor husbandry, poor care and technical procedures carried out poorly).
–David Morton, Emeritus Professor of Biomedical Science and Biomedical Ethics, at the University of Birmingham, UK

Special thanks to the following for their assistance in preparing this article: Annie Reinhardt, Catherine Reinhardt-Zacaïr, David Morton, and Detlef Fölsch.