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Off the dissection menu: the Western Ghats bullfrog.

Off the dissection menu: the Western Ghats bullfrog.

Flickr/Ajith U (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dissections banned in Indian universities

BANGALORE, INDIA—A long campaign to persuade Indian authorities to bar dissections in university classes has achieved a major victory. The University Grants Commission (UGC), a governmental body that sets standards for university education in India, has banned the dissection of animals in zoology and life science university courses. Some educators decry the decision, arguing that classrooms aren’t prepared to offer alternatives to dissections.

The animal rights advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has been calling for a ban for several years, arguing that computer models and simulations can effectively replace dissection. In 2011, UGC issued guidelines that exempted students from performing dissections in undergraduate classes and allowed students in postgraduate courses to opt out. In March, the Medical Council of India imposed a ban on animal dissection in undergraduate medical courses as well and is considering extending the ban to postgraduate courses.

Most zoology students do not use the knowledge gained from dissections after they graduate, argues Chaitanya Koduri, science policy adviser to PETA India. “When you don’t need to use animals in the first place, why kill them?” According to Koduri, several frog species have become endangered in the past 40 years because zoology students across India have collected them in large numbers for experiments. Dissection indeed is a major pressure on frog populations, says N. A. Aravind, an ecologist who studies mollusks at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment here. He cites the Indian bullfrog, which was slaughtered for its meat and also used widely in dissections until 1991, when it was listed as an endangered species under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. Although illegal hunting continues, the frog’s populations appear to have stabilized.

Although acknowledging that threatened species shouldn’t be used for dissection, Kambadur Muralidhar, a professor of endocrinology at South Asian University in New Delhi, says that substituting species in dissections—for example, using the common walking catfish instead of endangered Scoliodon fish—would have addressed the issue. Muralidhar, who earlier headed UGC’s curriculum development committee for zoology, says that extensive talks were held with PETA and the Animal Welfare Board of India to arrive at a compromise “under which you don’t dissect unnecessarily. But it looks like UGC hasn’t listened.”

Although PETA has suggested the use of computer-simulated dissections, scientists say that simulators are not yet widely available in Indian universities. “Hardly any colleges have them as of now,” says Narendra Saini, secretary general of the Indian Medical Association. He adds that even if simulations are used widely, a limited number of dissections would be indispensable for education in the life sciences.