A new introductory text on alternatives to animal experiments in education and training (1) is launched today by InterNICHE in over 100 world languages, including Braille (2).

Available here, the text asks what animal experimentation teaches you. It questions how successful such a method is in terms of meeting teaching objectives in medicine, veterinary medicine and biological science (3). It addresses the hidden curriculum and its negative impact on skills acquisition, and looks at the skills and attitudes that can only be met through humane alternative tools and approaches.

Funded by the Marchig Animal Welfare Trust, the text is more widely translated than any other similar resource currently available. Its production aims to increase global awareness about humane education and alternatives, and therefore the potential for alliances and action to catalyse progressive change. One of the roles of InterNICHE is to support the development of multi-local humane education initiatives from teachers, students and campaigners that together form the transnational movement for replacement of harmful animal use.

The range of languages includes those of European Union new member states and many minority languages worldwide. The translations promote the concept of alternatives in regions where animal testing is translocating, such as into Asia, and they provide appropriate texts for the first time across Africa, China and the central Asian republics.

The translations directly support the on-going localised work of InterNICHE National Contacts and other collaborators. To support existing and future projects with InterNICHE Partners across India and neighbouring countries, the text has been translated into over 20 languages from the region. To support planned major outreach and other activity in Latin America (4), the text is available not only in Spanish and Portuguese but also in the indigenous Guaraní and Quechua languages (5).

The translation of the text sometimes required the use of neologisms, including the introduction into some languages of words that have been created for the very first time. For example, the cutting-edge technology of virtual reality (VR), employed for advanced training in surgical skills and procedures such as resection and endoscopy, has been translated into Guaraní as ‘real thing that does not exist.’ (6)

Nick Jukes, Co-ordinator of InterNICHE, said, “Enhancing the quality of education and training, and supporting humanity in science, are important for all countries and all cultures. The wide range of translations launched today reflects the InterNICHE commitment to internationalising alternatives for this purpose, whilst honouring linguistic and cultural diversity. The arguments for best practice are stronger than ever, and from today they are even more accessible.”

(1) What do you think animal experiments teach you? InterNICHE (2007). Available here

(2) Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Assamese, Azerbaijani, Basque, Belarussian, Bengali, Breton, Bulgarian, Burmese, Buryat, Catalan, Chinese (Mandarin), Cornish, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dari, Dogri, Dutch, English, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, Flemish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Guaraní (Avañe'ẽ), Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish Gaelic, Italian, Japanese, Kachin, Kalmyk-Oirat, Kalenjin, Kikamba, Kannada, Kashmiri, Kazakh, Khmer, Kikuyu, Kiswahili, Konkani, Korean, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Lao, Latvian, Lithuanian, Luhya, Luo, Malay, Malayalam, Maltese, Maori, Marathi, Mongolian (Cyrillic), Mongolian (Uigur / Inner Mongolian), Nepali, Norwegian, Oriya, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Quechua, Rajasthani, Romanian, Romani, Russian, Scots Gaelic, Serbian, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Slovak, Slovenian, Sotho, Spanish, Swedish, Sylheti, Tagalog, Tajik, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Tswana, Tulu, Turkish, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Welsh and Zulu. Further languages are to follow.

(3) Academic studies demonstrate that alternatives such as advanced software and training mannekins are at least as successful in terms of student and trainee performance. See for example Martinsen S, Jukes N. Towards a humane veterinary education. J Vet Med Educ 2005;32:454–460. See also Patronek GJ, Rauch A. Systematic review of comparative studies examining alternatives to the harmful use of animals in biomedical education. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2007;230:37–43

The impact of the hidden curriculum of practical classes involving animal experiments and the dissection of purposely killed animals must also be addressed when teaching objectives are assessed. This hidden curriculum teaches the acceptability of harmful and instrumental use of animals and can bring about desensitisation. This can work against the development of the clinical skill of caring – the root of the medical and veterinary medical professions – and can undermine the concept of biology as the study of life.

Harmful animal use may also preclude the meeting of teaching objectives that can only be gained through non-animal alternative tools and through animal-based alternative approaches such as ethical field studies and clinical work with animal patients. Such objectives may include a higher level of surgical competence, broader awareness of animal behaviour, and the development of care as a clinical skill.

Awareness of the hidden curriculum and of the potential of alternatives gives further weight to the InterNICHE argument that replacement alternatives are always superior to harmful animal use in terms of knowledge and skills acquisition, as well as ethics.

(4) The InterNICHE Latin American outreach is supported by the Doerenkamp-Zbinden Foundation and will involve presentations, alternatives demonstrations, alliance-building and support for humane education initiatives in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil.

(5) The interplay between biodiversity and linguistic and cultural diversity suggests that support for minority languages may also impact positively on animals. For example, many indigenous cultures have wide linguistically encoded knowledge about ecological relationships amongst plants and animals. See, for example,

(6) VR is used most widely for medical training in countries with widespread hi-tech medical facilities, but interactive internet technologies that involve virtual imaging, such as telesurgery, are suitable for use in remote locations such as the Amazon. The origin of animals captured and killed for practical classes may also include economically disadvantaged countries and regions. Awareness of humane education and alternatives can be increased, and success in replacement of harmful animal use enhanced, when efforts are globally networked and culturally inclusive.