The concept of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction, and refinement) was originally developed for improving laboratory animal welfare and is well known in biomedical and toxicologic research. The 3Rs have so far gained little attention in wildlife research, and there could be several reasons for this. First, researchers may prioritize the welfare of populations and ecosystems over the welfare of individual animals. The effects of research on individual animals can, however, impact welfare and research quality at group and population levels. Second, researchers may find it difficult to apply the 3Rs to studies of free-living wildlife because of the differences between laboratory and wild animals, species, research environment, and purpose and design of the studies. There are, however, several areas where it is possible to transfer the 3R principles to wildlife research, including replacement with noninvasive research techniques, reduction with optimized experimental design, and refinement with better methods of capture, anesthesia, and handling. Third, researchers may not have been trained in applying the 3Rs in wildlife research. This training is needed since ethics committees, employers, journal publishers, and funding agencies increasingly require researchers to consider the welfare implications of their research. In this paper, we compare the principles of the 3Rs in various research areas to better understand the possibilities and challenges of the 3Rs in wildlife research. We emphasize the importance of applying the 3Rs systematically throughout the research process. Based on experiences from laboratory research, we suggest three key factors to enhance implementation of the 3Rs in wildlife research: 1) organizational structure and management, 2) 3R awareness, and 3) research innovation, validation, and implementation. Finally, we encourage an interdisciplinary approach to incorporate the 3R principles in wildlife research. For improved animal welfare and increased research quality, researchers have moral obligations to include the 3Rs into all research areas, including wildlife research.
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Vol. 52 • No. 2s