If you are a biology student in Nepal, chances are you have dissected a “specimen” – mostly frog – in your class. During the final year of my high school, I remember being asked to cut open a preserved frog as a part of my practical exam. As I slit through the skin of the lifeless croak, I never understood the necessity to slaughter an animal in the name of education. Why haven’t we still switched to the alternative methods of learning?
In response to the ethical and ecological importance of animals, various countries around the world have implemented partial as well as a full ban on dissection. Countries such as the Netherlands, Israel, Slovak Republic, Switzerland, and Argentina, no longer allow academic cutting of animals. Our neighbouring country, India, has also banned dissection of animals in universities and commercial export of frogs. However, animal dissection in Nepal still remains a barely touched issue.
Every year, science students dissect around 50,000 – 100,000 frogs in their Grade XI classes for anatomy and physiology demonstrations. These frogs are generally caught from the wild areas of Terai as Nepal still lacks a commercial frog farming centre. Due to the uncontrolled catching of frogs, the amphibians are now under threat of extinction. One of the commonly dissected frogs, tiger frog, is even listed under CITES Appendix II.
Frogs are the bio-indicators of environmental health. The tadpoles of the frogs feed on the algae and prevent organic pollution in water. As they metamorphosize to frogs, they control harmful pests and slugs from the surroundings. In addition, they are a crucial part of the ecological food chain as they become prey for different species of snakes. Frogs are even embedded in our cultural belfies: some communities in Kathmandu worship and feed rice to frogs as a god.
Dissecting animals not only affects biodiversity but also takes a toll on human life. The chemical, “formalin”, used to preserve the animals are directly toxic to human health. Even short term exposure to it can lead to watery and burning eyes, nausea and skin irritation in some people. Likewise, long-term exposure to formalin has shown to cause nasal cancer in rats, further raising concerns on its rampant use in biology labs.
The mental distress caused by dissection is also very common. Many students at some stages of their educational career have expressed their concern regarding the use of animals in dissection. Studies have shown that people who oppose animal testing can end up uncomfortable and traumatized after animal dissection. This can even discourage students from pursuing a career in science. On one hand, we teach our students to be veterinarians, doctors and conservationists with compassion; while on the other side, we treat the lives of dissected animals like disposable objects.
It is inhumane and unethical to mercilessly murder an animal in the pursuit of knowledge that can be gained without such crucifying act. Nowadays, there are plenty of apps, simulations and 3D model that can almost mimic the real dissecting process. In fact, studies have reported that students using models and computer software score and learn as well or even better in performance tests compared to those who participate in dissection. Furthermore, the younger generations have become more repellent towards these kinds of animal cruelty and learning.
Dissection should be our primitive past when human civilization didn’t have enough access to technologies and scientific discoveries. It is no longer an educational necessity. We should be teaching our students to take an environmental step forward, not only in theories of books but also in practical lessons. It is hypocritical to preach conservation on the text while setting traps for our croaking amphibians to suffer. I took a stand against dissection, when are you going to?