Do I need ethics approval?

Ethics approval is legally required under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 when live animals are to be used for teaching or research depending on what animal they are and if they are ‘manipulated’. This often applies to student investigations including those for science and technology fairs, CREST Awards, Bright Sparks or other such student initiated research or technological practice, and similarly to teachers. Evidence of approval may also be a prerequisite to entering a Science Fair.

Under the Animal Welfare Act ‘animal’ means any live member of the animal kingdom that is a mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish (bony or cartilaginous), octopus, squid, crab (including half crab), lobster or crayfish (including freshwater crayfish), and includes any marsupial pouch young or mammalian foetus, or any avian or reptilian pre-hatched young, that is in the last half of its period of gestation or development.

Under the Animal Welfare Act ‘manipulation’ means interfering with an animal’s normal physiology, behaviour, or anatomy. It includes subjecting it to unusual or abnormal practices (e.g. exposure to parasites, microorganisims, drugs, chemicals, biological products, radiation, electrical stimulation or environmental conditions) or depriving it of its usual care.

The following do not require Animal Ethics Committee approval:

  • School, classroom or student pets including pet days where appropriate animal care is given;
  • Observations of behaviour (provided the presence of people does not interfere with normal behaviour, for example, animals giving birth are often affected by the presence of people);
  • Observations of body structure and function;
  • Measurement of growth e.g. regular weighing to chart a growth curve;
  • Identification of diet preferences and food “treats”;
  • Observation of animal response to different cage equipment such as tubes, platforms and ramps;
  • Breeding to teach reproduction and development; and
  • Routine animal care and handling techniques including routine farm husbandry pratices.

Most other activities will require Animal Ethics Committee approval. Examples of projects that would require approval include: the responses of mice to different conditions in mazes; observing the responses of fish to colours and dogs’ reactions to colour, music and sound; building a vehicle for an arthritic dog; raising calves on different bedding; faecal sampling of sheep; and antibiotic pre-treatment for mastitis in cows.

Note that if your project involves catching, killing, or obtaining the eggs, dead bodies or parts, of any native mammals, birds (except game birds), reptiles or amphibians, or bush and ground wetas, ground or carab beetles, Nelson cave spiders, snails, black and red coral, or spotted black groper, you need to also get a permit from the Department of Conservation (www.doc.govt.nz). A permit may also be required to remove native species from National Parks or Reserves.

Follow the steps through the flow chart diagram to determine whether your project requires ethical approval.