The annual use of over 3000 animals has been replaced with alternatives at a higher education institute in the Indian state of Gujarat. InterNICHE Partners the Gujarat Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) confirmed this week that Bhavnager University has agreed to end the use of over 3000 mice, rats and rabbits for dissections and severe experiments in pharmacology, biochemistry, zoology and health science education.

The alternative that will replace the many pharmacology experiments is the CAL Pharmacology Compilation, produced by Dr R Raveendran. This software was produced with grant funding from the InterNICHE Humane Education Award, a program sponsored by Dutch anti-vivisection organisation Proefdiervrij. The Award has supported humane education initiatives from teachers and others internationally, facilitating direct replacement of animal experiments in education and training.

The CAL Pharmacology Compilation was launched as freeware, enabling it to be freely duplicated. Over 4000 copies have been distributed across India by InterNICHE and its collaborators, including the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, and many more copies have been made locally.

Snehal Bhavsar from the GSPCA, the prime mover in achieving the curricular transformation at Bhavnager University, has been encouraging colleges and universities across Gujarat to abandon experiments in education, with success rooted in her strategic and tactical skills. In her role as CPCSEA nominee across much of the state, she is able to place demands on universities, as well as on companies involved in research and testing on animals.

The CPCSEA is the Indian government agency that supervises animal experimentation. It is often described as inefficient and careless at the central level, but sometimes highly effective at the local and regional level, such as in Gujarat.

Changes in the requirements for education issued by the Indian government and applied by CPCSEA nominees have played a major role in changes away from animal experiments too. The CPCSEA Guidelines address dissection in zoology and other science courses.

Dissection and experiments at the basic level of bachelor degrees were made non-compulsory in 2006. However, curricular regulations from the ‘outside examiners’ working for the Indian government’s Department of Education still demanded dissection at this point of time, so a conflict had been created. Aware that the dissection was not truly necessary, and considering the cost and extra requirements for all work with animals, the teachers themselves co-operated to successfully lobby the Department to remove dissection from the curriculum for the whole country. The change had impact at university level but also in the last few remaining secondary schools that were still doing dissections (most dissections at secondary level had stopped by 2001).

As well as addressing basic education, the Guidelines promote the ‘4Rs’ of reduction, replacement, refinement and rehabilitation at MSc level and for research and testing. Requests in protocols sent to the CPCSEA in Gujarat for animal use by lower MSc students are now rejected.

Permission for most experiments at Karamsab AR Pharmacology College, for example, has been withdrawn: not only are the experiments effectively no longer allowed, but the college has insufficient space for an animal house of the ‘high’ standards now required. Only higher MSc animal use is allowed, and this is for ‘mild’ experiments only. The killing of healthy animals after experiments at all levels has now been severely curtailed, and their rehabilitation costs must now be paid for.

There is a growing number of private colleges with high numbers of animals used in their MSc courses, but many are not registered with the CPCSEA as they should be, and so do not have the same checks by nominees as government establishments do.

In another approach to achieving change, CPCSEA nominees demanded quarterly statistical reports about animals bred and used by pharmaceutical testing companies in Gujarat. Analysis of the data showed a discrepancy: companies were breeding so-called ‘excess’ animals who were not used and were instead donated free to colleges and universities. This practice was therefore stopped, thereby cutting the supply of free animals to educational establishments across the state.

At the same time, the cost of computers has been decreasing, so some educational establishments consider that if they would now have to pay for animals, and struggle to meet the strict requirements, it may be wise to invest in buying hardware and using alternatives instead.

By demanding that educational and research and testing establishments have their own animal house – and well-equipped with suitable maintenance, climate control and other conditions - the level of practical and ethical standards concerning animal breeding and use that must be met has also increased. As a result, some establishments no longer apply for clearance by the CPCSEA in the state, and the experiments are abandoned.

From 2004, animal use in education was already significantly and constantly decreasing across Gujarat. This was a direct result, according to Snehal Bhavsar, of the two-fold approach employed: information provision, outreach work and training in alternatives provided by InterNICHE, and her own sustained engagement with and pressure on establishments on the issue.

An InterNICHE speaking tour in 2003 took the message of full replacement and the evidence of superior student performance when using alternatives to 22 locations right across India. 1600 copies of the InterNICHE book and database ‘from Guinea Pig to Computer Mouse’ (2nd ed.) were distributed at the same time. Meetings were also held between InterNICHE and the academic councils and CPCSEA.

In 2004 over 400 university teachers were trained at events in 10 cities in India in the largest training event of its nature ever held worldwide.

The ‘Alternatives, Animal Welfare and the Curriculum’ series of seminars was organised by InterNICHE and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) in conjunction with many committed local organisations across the country. The GSPCA was the local organiser in Gujarat.

Travel support was provided to senior university officials, heads of department and research students to attend the day-long seminars. Teams of teacher trainers self-trained and then demonstrated in detail a range of alternative tools chosen according to the Indian curricula for different disciplines. Many of the tools were provided by the InterNICHE Alternatives Loan System. Others, such as calf anatomy models, were Indian-made. Teachers and others have since been requesting of the GSPCA and InterNICHE further training in alternatives.

As Snehal Bhavsar continues to address humane education, complaints from students to her in her role as GSPCA representative and CPCSEA nominee about harmful animal use have guided efforts for a targeted increase of pressure at specific establishments.

Moreover, half of Gujarat’s population is Jain, a religion where the value of non-violence towards people and animals is specifically acknowledged, and this is impacting positively on the process of change. Historically, some Jain academics have advised followers not to enter medicine and related fields because of the dissection and vivisection that might be expected of students. As far as civil rights are concerned, those with religious or otherwise deeply held convictions concerning the integrity of life should be able to enter all fields of study. The issue illustrates the potential of alternatives to help make real the government pledges to make education fully inclusive and non-discriminatory.

The replacement of the 3000 animals at Bhavnager University is highly significant and a major success for campaigners. However, it is dwarfed by the changes in education across the whole of Gujarat, which comprise an 80% reduction of animal use in many courses over the past 12 months. This translates to replacement of over 10,000 animals, achieved in a state where animal use in research and testing is one of the highest in India.