InterNICHE Co-ordinator Nick Jukes visited Iran in April and June 2012 as an invited international speaker at the 17th Iranian Veterinary Congress and to conduct outreach to universities. A previous InterNICHE visit to Iran in 2011 had been the first alternatives outreach to the country. The 2012 outreach was part of a wider project that included extended stays in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The presentation on humane education and alternatives at the Congress in Tehran was complemented by a stall organised by InterNICHE Partners the Iranian Anti-Vivisection Association (IAVA). A range of alternatives including software, models, mannekins and simulators were presented. The positive feedback and opportunities to network with veterinary teachers and students made a very successful event. Discussions were also held to explore with veterinary students the possibility of co-organising a student-focused alternatives conference as a satellite to a larger veterinary congress in the future. Opportunities for further outreach and meetings were identified from discussions at this event. A meeting with zoologists at the Marine Sciences University was held, and talks to over 100 people were given at two branches of the Islamic Azad University – the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Garmsar and the Science and Research Branch in Shahriar – organised by IAVA Director Dr Ramak Roshanaie.

In the (all-male) Garmsar branch, and in Shahriar, veterinarian Dr Shahabeddin Safi presented the case for alternatives in research and testing, and Nick Jukes explored the range and quality of alternatives in education and training. Demonstrations of innovative learning tools within anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, clinical skills and surgery were given. For many teachers and students this was their first significant exposure to alternatives, and the first time that animal experiments had been comprehensively challenged. Student interest was very high, reflecting widespread discomfort with harmful animal use, and many teachers recognised the pedagogical, ethical and economic advantages of alternatives.

A subsequent important meeting with the Dean of the Veterinary Faculty at Tehran University was also very positive, with the Dean acknowledging the positive role that alternatives can play within education, and placing their gradual implementation within the process of reform. Iranian campaigners saw this as a very positive response. A seminar at the Faculty just for heads of department and other officials will now be proposed.

A number of students offered to help with promotion of alternatives, and a team of student translators was established to help translate the new InterNICHE website into Farsi. A meeting with students from different universities was held to establish a student alternatives group, and a number of meetings with IAVA campaigners were also held to strategise and build community. Such meetings are very important, particularly with Iranian censorship and international sanctions isolating the country and its people from many international connections.

In September 2012 IAVA was given the Brown Bear Award by Iran Animal Rights Watch for being the most active animal rights group in Iran. The ability of IAVA and its associated fledgling vegan movement to campaign in Iran reflects both the motivation of its members and the degree to which animals are considered by some others to be particularly unworthy of consideration. Campaigners, however, are often aware of the multiple positive impact - in terms of pedagogics, ethics and empowerment - of organising for change and establishing humane education.

The contrast with seemingly more moderate countries such as Egypt is also interesting. While Egypt has a well-established and widespread animal welfare movement, only some campaigners are vegetarian, and few are vegan. While such dietary practices are not necessary for alternatives campaigning, they can reflect greater awareness and compassion, and suggest a commitment to ethical consistency. The movement for animals in Iran is younger and very much smaller, but is more animal rights, anti-vivisection and vegan oriented. By the second half of the 20th century, Iran had developed a sizeable liberal and educated middle class, and the critical thinking and confidence that education can provide has carried through to the present day, particularly in Tehran. Egypt, by contrast, has a more agricultural base and does not have the same level of education - though during the recent revolution there was a call by some students for the implementation of replacement alternatives in education as part of a broader challenge to convention and corruption - see here.

The conditions and treatment of animals in both countries are perhaps similar. Beating to death of dogs in public is not unknown in Iran, and in Egypt the killing of animals by lacing food with poison or glass shards is also done. Iranian campaigners noticed immediately with positive surprise that a university student researcher who was helping with a seminar had a companion animal dog in his car and was treating her well.

In terms of animal use in education and training, one student provided testimony of practical labs with rabbits where the animals regained consciousness during experiments, and of horses struggling against untrained students’ attempts to insert a nasal tube. IAVA had also identified experiments performed on dogs where their limbs were broken. Other animal experiments and the dissection of purpose killed animals are widespread, but are increasingly being questioned.

One successful direct replacement took place immediately after the seminar at Garmsar. Two dogs were being held ready to be killed for use in a pathology practical class at Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch in Shahriar. A local group that works with stray animals, Raha Animal Rescue, provided the cadaver of a dog that had died after a road accident; another cadaver was donated by a companion animal guardian who had seen an IAVA poster promoting a body donation program in a veterinary clinic. Through connections with veterinary student members of IAVA, the cadavers were then given to the university to use as alternatives. The animals scheduled to be killed were rescued and then rehomed. Photographs can be seen here and on the timeline on 12-13 May 2012 here. Video footage can be seen here.

In 2010 IAVA performed its first rescue of dogs that were to be killed for anatomy and pathology practical classes. A female and her puppies were taken with permission from Shahriar and rehomed. Details are here. A second rescue took place in 2011 where another female with puppies was taken with permission from Islamic Azad University of Karaj, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. They were housed in very poor conditions and were scheduled to be killed or used in experiments. In this case the university required payment for the dogs, who were successfully rehomed. Photographs can be seen here, and video footage here.

Although non-animal learning tools can bring about significant replacement in education and training, in veterinary medicine there is a genuine need for access to animal tissue in some practical classes. The default position for some universities, however, is for animals to be killed to provide their cadavers, and it is wrongly assumed that the choice is between killing animals for this purpose or not using animals at all. However, the provision of ethically sourced animal cadavers through body donation programs provides a creative, ethical solution that is increasingly being explored by universities.

The InterNICHE Policy, which IAVA follows, includes ethically sourced cadavers as an alternative because they can replace the use of purpose-killed animals. Ethically sourced animal cadavers are defined by the Policy as those that come from free living animals that have died naturally, in accidents, or that have been euthanised for medical reasons. See here for the full InterNICHE Policy.

Nevertheless, IAVA will source cadavers only from those animals who died naturally or in accidents (many dogs are indeed killed on the streets in traffic accidents), and will reject those that have been euthanised in Iran. They consider that some ‘euthanasia’ in the country is not genuine euthanasia - ie mercy killing performed for the animal’s benefit due to serious non-recoverable injury or disease - but instead comprises killing for convenience, reflecting poor veterinary principles and practice.

The decision to establish a formal body donation program in Iran was made after the 2011 InterNICHE outreach. IAVA campaigners who are veterinarians are working to establish the infrastructure for such a program, and have already begun promoting the concept to build a network of participating veterinary clinics. To be successful, such programs need good public promotion. Through this, clients will understand that donating the body of their beloved deceased companion animal will directly save the life of another animal, and that their participation will help ensure ethical and effective training for a new generation of humane vets. Feedback from clinics and animal guardians in Iran suggests that there is indeed public support for such a program. Consent forms and good record keeping will ensure that the InterNICHE Policy and other elements of best practice are followed. At the other end of the chain, good working relationships with teachers and faculties willing to use donor animals are being established, along with appropriate infrastructure such as an effective notification process, transportation solutions and cool rooms and freezer storage – funds permitting.

Such programs link an existing resource (cadavers scheduled for incineration) with an existing need (cadaver requirements for anatomy, pathology, clinical skills and surgery labs), thereby obviating the killing of animals for their cadavers. Replacement is therefore achieved. This alternative approach holds great potential not only in terms of saving lives, but also from the economic and environmental perspectives. It is recommend that shelters and clinics contribute to the establishment of a body donation program in conjunction with IAVA and InterNICHE, to help stop the catching and killing of dogs for practical classes in veterinary education and training. The ethically sourced donated cadavers can then directly replace cadavers that derive from pain and suffering and death. Dr Parisa Kiani Amin, through the Proshat Pet Clinic in Tehran, is willing to help establish and contribute to this body donation program, and is also able to offer reduced price treatment to shelters. The possibility of the clinic providing a base for training alternatives is being explored.

Already there is a mini-library of alternatives in Iran, with learning tools provided by InterNICHE, and the advanced clinical skills training mannekin Critical Care Jerry is now available for long-term use in the country. In terms of promoting alternatives, Jerry provides a very visual, hands-on tool for use in outreach at exhibitions, conferences and meetings. Functionality includes opportunities to practice intubation, injections and taking blood, and fixing broken bones, without the stress, injury and death caused to animals in practical classes. The breath and heart sounds simulator is an excellent tool that provides opportunities to listen to and become familiar with the sounds of over 20 pathologies. The mannekin can therefore not only bring about replacement of harmful animal use, but through the simulator concentrates many years of clinical experience into one learning tool. He can be of great value to universities as well as to shelters. In South Africa the NSPCA are using him not only to train vets and later to bring about replacement, but also to teach correct ways to approach and handle animals, and provide primary animal care, in the townships.

Other positive changes in Iran have included the release of frogs destined for a practical class into a forest; the ending of seizure tests in pharmacy education at Shahid Beheshti University; and the ending of experiments on dogs and rabbits by a head of physiology. The same teacher borrowed the Biopac Student Lab from the InterNICHE Alternatives Loan System and was very impressed with its potential as a self-experimentation apparatus and replacement for the last remaining animal experiments in his class. And several universities are now interested in using Critical Care Jerry as a training tool.

For many alternatives, the sanctions were identified as a barrier to their import and subsequent implementation. Local production of alternatives was recognised as one solution. Another area of interest from teachers was reflected in requests that InterNICHE and IAVA should organise a workshop on plastination. This method of dehydrating tissue and using silicone and other materials to preserve specimens can produce durable models that are alternatives to dissection. Working with this specific interest from the teachers will also provide an opportunity to open the door to the broader field of alternatives.

InterNICHE gratefully acknowledges funding support from Doctors Against Animal Experiments (DAAE) (Germany) for the activity in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan; and from the Anti-Vivisection Union (South Australia) (AVU), the International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals (IAAPEA), the Swiss League Against Vivisection (LSCV), Animalearn and Mrs Sheelagh Graham for the whole project. The assistance of Ms Sepideh Hosseini and the members of IAVA is also acknowledged. A report on Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is to follow.