Planning for teaching using animals
Before applying for a licence and planning a program using animals, be clear on the educational benefits you are hoping to achieve. What are the benefits for the students and how will you measure your success in delivering them? What does the exercise mean for the animals involved?
If your program could be run without the need for animals, you are required by law not to use animals. Only when you are convinced that animals are essential for your educational objectives may you apply to the Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) for approval.
The role of the AEC is to ensure that the use of animals is justified by the educational outcome, that the impact on animals used is minimised and that the educational outcome is assured. The teacher's job is to provide the information to the AEC that it needs to make that decision. The AEC will be considering the application in terms of the Three R's : Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. By working through these principles when applying to the AEC you will find it easier to present all of the information they need to know. Download our checklist to work through your application according to the 3Rs.
Education using animals is not related to new discovery but rather demonstrating well-known facts. Preference should always be given to programs that do not require animals. Do a thorough search of the educational resource literature to find activities to successfully replace the use of animals and how successful they were at achieving their aims and objectives. For example, a video demonstration, a model or mannequin of an animal or a computer simulation can provide the same educational outcome via a different process. Have the students experiment on (weigh and measure) themselves and each other! You'll find lots of great ideas here.
The aim is to use as few animals as needed without increasing the impact on those remaining. Look for ways to use fewer animals such as 'sharing' observations with other classes, visiting the zoo, or making a video using animals and then using it for future presentations.
The AEC performs a cost-benefit analysis of the program to decide whether the use of animals is justified by the educational outcome. You can tip the balance in favour of your program by minimising the 'cost' to (effect on) the animals and maximising the benefit (educational outcome). Minimising the effect on the animals means making the experience as pleasant for them as possible. This starts at the selection of species – for example, do you need a highly sensitive rabbit for your program or would a visit from a well-socialised puppy do the trick? The housing and care of the animals needs to be detailed in your application and every opportunity to increase their comfort and security should be taken.
What happens next – fate of the animals
You may have a great idea for rehoming your animals once the teaching activity is over. You will need to arrange and confirm the new home(s) before starting the activity, so that you are not left with surplus animals. If returning the animals to the supplier is an option, make sure you know what will happen to the animals after that. If animals are put to sleep as soon as you are finished your activity, that must be added to the cost-benefit calculation.
Animals should not be offered to students for rehoming without express permission from parents, and should always be accompanied by a comprehensive information pack explaining care, nutrition, housing, possible zoonoses (diseases transmissible to humans), veterinary care and preventative treatments. Social species (chickens, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, etc) should never be rehomed as single animals.
Remember that early-rising, non-egg producing, noisy roosters are not at the top of any family's (or local council's) list of desirable pets. Take a responsible approach to the fate of your animals and ensure that they are dealt with humanely.