Animal experimentation continues to generate public and political concern worldwide. Relatively few countries collate and publish animal use statistics, yet this is a first and essential step toward public accountability and an informed debate, as well as being important for effective policy-making and regulation. The implementation of the Three Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement of animal experiments) should be expected to result in a decline in animal use, but without regular, accurate statistics, this cannot be monitored. Recent estimates of worldwide annual laboratory animal use are imprecise and unsubstantiated, ranging from 28-100 million. We collated data for 37 countries that publish national statistics, and standardised these against the definitions of 'animals', 'purposes' and 'experiments' used in European Union Directive 86/609/EEC. We developed and applied a statistical model, based on publication rates, for a further 142 countries. This yielded our most conservative estimate of global animal use: 58.3 million animals in 179 countries. However, this figure excludes several uses and forms of animals that are included in the statistics of some countries. With the data available, albeit for only a few countries, we also produced, by extrapolation, a more comprehensive global estimate that includes animals killed for the provision of tissues, animals used to maintain genetically-modified strains, and animals bred for laboratory use but killed as surplus to requirements. For a number of reasons that are explained, this more-comprehensive figure of 115.3 million animals is still likely to be an underestimate.