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Animals should only be used for teaching activities when there are no suitable alternatives for achieving all of the educational objectives. Students should be given the opportunity to discuss the ethical, legal, social and scientific issues involved in the use of animals for scientific purposes, including teaching.


Ministry for Primary Industries. (2021). Good practice guide for the use of animals in research, testing and teaching p.39

Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, research and teaching involving manipulating live animals may require ethics approval. This requirement applies to animals used in schools and school activities.

Ensure you are aware of the law to govern the welfare of animals in your school or early childhood centre. If you are keeping animals, download the draft policy and adapt it for your specific situation. Ensure you understand when ethical approval is needed for the use of animals in teaching and how to apply for it.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999

The  Animal Welfare Act 1999  governs the welfare of animals in New Zealand. It applies specifically to vertebrate animals (including fish), octopuses, squids, crabs, lobsters, and crayfish, but the general principles should also be applied to other species of animals kept in classrooms. It also includes any mammalian foetus or any avian or reptilian pre-hatched young in the last half of its period of gestation or development. It excludes human beings.

The Act requires "owners of animals, and persons in charge of animals, to attend properly to the welfare of those animals". This can be done by ensuring that an animal's physical, health, and behavioural needs are met by:

  • providing it with proper and sufficient food and water
  • providing it with adequate shelter
  • providing it with the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
  • handling it physically in a manner that minimises the likelihood of unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress
  • protecting it from and rapidly diagnosing any significant injury or disease.

A specific part of the Act covers the use of live animals in research, testing, and teaching. These provisions make it an offence to manipulate live animals for teaching purposes unless this is done in accordance with a code of ethical conduct approved by the Schools’ Animal Ethics Committee.

In most cases, activities involving animals in an ECE centre or a school do not need ethical approval. (See information under Guidelines for teachers, educators, and students on this page for examples of these activities.)

Ethical approval is legally required only if live animals are to be manipulated for teaching (and other specified) purposes.

The terms "animal" and "manipulation" are defined in the Animal Welfare Act 1999 as follows.


(a) Means any live member of the animal kingdom that is:

  • a mammal
  • a bird
  • a reptile
  • an amphibian
  • a fish (bony or cartilaginous)
  • any octopus, squid, crab, lobster, or crayfish (including freshwater crayfish)
  • any other member of the animal kingdom which is declared from time to time by the Governor-General, by Order in Council, to be an animal for the purposes of this Act

(b) Includes any mammalian foetus, or any avian or reptilian pre-hatched young, that is in the last half of its period of gestation or development

(c) Includes any marsupial pouch young; but

(d) Does not include:

  • a human being
  • except as provided in paragraph (b) or paragraph (c) of this definition, any animal in the prenatal, pre-hatched, larval, or other such developmental stage.


"Manipulation" in relation to an animal, means ... interfering with the normal physiological, behavioural, or anatomical integrity of the animal by deliberately:

(a) Subjecting it to a procedure which is unusual or abnormal when compared with that to which animals of that type would be subjected under normal management or practice and which involves:

  1. Exposing the animal to any parasite, micro-organism, drug, chemical, biological product, radiation, electrical stimulation, or environmental condition
  2. Enforced activity, restraint, nutrition, or surgical intervention

(b) Depriving it of usual care ...

The term ... does not include:

  1. any therapy or prophylaxis necessary or desirable for the welfare of an animal
  2. the killing of an animal by the owner or person in charge (in the course) (as the end point) of research, testing, or teaching if the animal is killed in such a manner that the animal does not suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress
  3. the killing of an animal in order to undertake research, testing, or teaching on the dead animal or on prenatal or developmental tissue of the animal if the animal is killed in such a manner that the animal does not suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress
  4. the hunting or killing of any animal in a wild state by a method that is not an experimental method

Any procedure that the Minister declares ... not to be a manipulation for the purposes of this Act..

The Wildlife Act 1953

Any creature that is in a wild state and is defined as an animal in the  Wildlife Act 1953  is absolutely protected unless otherwise stated in the Act. The definition of "animal" in this Act is quite different from that in the Animal Welfare Act 1999, and it includes some marine species and a number of terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates.

Under the Wildlife Act 1953, it is illegal to keep any species of native animal without a permit from the Department of Conservation.

Changes are made to this Act as new information arises, therefore it is recommended that you go to the most recent version when referring to it.

Developing a policy on animals for ECE centres and schools

It is recommended that if your school or early childhood education (ECE) centres is keeping animals, you should have an animals policy that has been approved by your board of trustees or ECE centre management. This policy must not contravene the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

To download the draft policy template, select from the following Word or PDF formats:

Word 2007 icon. Draft policy on animals (Word 2007 74 KB)

PDF icon. Draft policy on animals (PDF 183 KB)

Ethics guidelines for teachers, educators, and students

Can I use animals in my classroom or early childhood education (ECE) centre without ethical approval?

Occasions that usually do not require ethical approval

Bringing a pet to the school or ECE centre

Visits from pets should preferably be planned because, depending on circumstances such as the type of pet and the duration of stay, the animal may need water, shelter, food, and/or a secure place away from children/students where it can be kept when it is not needed during the day.

Pet days

When pets are brought to the school or ECE centre for pet day, teachers, students, and children should:

  • provide them with water
  • ensure that they do not have food withheld in an attempt to make them more obedient during judging
  • provide shelter from the hot sun or from bad weather
  • provide advice that they should be transported to and from the ECE centre/school in secure enclosures, such as cages or pet boxes for small animals and secure, non-slippery trailers or truck decks for lambs and calves
  • remember that some pets will not be used to crowds and may find it stressful to be surrounded by lots of students and children wanting to pat them and high noise levels from people and loudspeakers
  • if they are to be tied up, check that no animals can come to harm. For example, dogs should be kept far enough apart to prevent fights, and livestock should not be tethered near poisonous plants or on steep slopes.

Classroom and ECE centre pets

Keeping an animal in a classroom or ECE centre as a pet and/or for observational purposes does not require ethical approval. However, teachers should:

  • make prior arrangements about long-term care before any animal is obtained
  • provide proper care and facilities (see  Animal care in the classroom )
  • provide for adequate weekend and holiday care.

Classroom and ECE studies involving animals 

This includes activities such as:

  • observing animal behaviour and movement, body structure and function, growth (including regular weighing to chart a growth curve), diet preferences, and food treats
  • preference testing of cage equipment used to enrich the environment of the animal, for example, tubes, platforms, and ramps
  • learning animal care and handling techniques and taking responsibility for the care of an animal
  • using breeding pairs to teach reproduction and development. Before breeding animals, make suitable arrangements for the placement of offspring.

Dissections and experiments involving non-living animal tissue

Use dissection material obtained from reputable sources. The Safety and Science: A Guidance Manual for New Zealand Schools (2000 p. 32) outlines what teachers should be aware of – Access from the Science Technician's Association of New Zealand |Health and safety page, scroll and look for Safety and Science 2000

Science fair projects in schools

Although science fair projects might not be undertaken on school premises, teachers should nevertheless ensure that students are informed at the outset of the ethical considerations of using any living creature. Students should also be made aware that special procedures must be followed if an animal manipulation (as legally defined) is planned as part of the project.

Use the flowchart to should help you to decide whether ethical approval is needed.

Flowchart – Do I need ethical approval to use animals?

Flowchart explanation

The flowchart shows you how to decide whether you need ethical approval to use animals. The first question is, "Will the animal be alive when I use it?".

If you answer "Yes" you follow the arrows to the left of the chart.

  • Check whether it is an  animal  under the legal definition of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
  • If you answer "Yes", will the animal be  manipulated  according to the legal definition under the Animal Welfare Act 1999? 
  • If you answer "Yes" the next question asks if the animal is to be used for teaching, research, experimentation, diagnostic toxicity or potency testing, or the production of biological agents.
  • If the answer is "Yes" then "Ethical approval is required".

If at any stage you answer "No", follow the arrows to the right and you are informed "Ethical approval is not required".

Gaining ethical approval to manipulate animals

New Zealand Association of Science Educators (NZASE) | Animal ethics


  • the NZASE Code of Conduct for the use of animals (October 2009); this code is administered by the Schools' Animal Ethics Committee who ensure early childhood centres, kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools and students' homes across New Zealand gain ethical approval, where required, for any research projects involving the manipulation of animals
  • information about, and application forms for animal ethics approval

Whether animals kept in ECE centres and schools are those defined by the Animal Welfare Act 1999, or by the Wildlife Act 1953, or are invertebrate animals, give them respect and attention to ensure that their needs are met.

Keeping animals such as possums, chinchillas, or ferrets should be actively discouraged because they have been declared pests. Take every opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility in children and students towards declared pests.

MPI | Animals in research, testing, and teaching

Ministry for Primary Industries information for teachers and students on getting ethical approval to use animals in school research projects. In the Good practice guide for the use of animals in research and testing (January 2021) , section 7.1 pp 39-40 outlines the responsibilities of teachers.

The updated information is originally from Caring for animals: A guide for teachers, early childhood educators, and students published in 1999 by Learning Media Limited for the Ministry of Education. Although no longer available this publication may still be available in some schools.


The New Zealand Science Teachers' Association (NZASE) | Resources for animal ethics
NZASE provides a code of conduct and guidance for teachers on both animal and human ethics.

Code of ethical conduct for the use of animals in research and teaching in schools, home schools and early childhood centres  (Published 2019)

The NZASE Ethics Committee  was set up in 2005 to help schools, home schools and early childhood centres meet those legal requirements. The Committee administers an approval process for school projects involving animals.

Science Learning Hub | Ethics thinking toolkit
This toolkit provides a structured framework for scaffolding student thinking about an ethical issue.

Safe for animals | Animals & Us
Resources on animal issues for teachers and students in New Zealand secondary schools, which prompt reflection on empathy and compassion. Resources are for use within the NCEA framework for Y11–13.

Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching (ANZCCART)
ANZCCART is an independent body which was established to provide a focus for consideration of the scientific, ethical and social issues associated with the use of animals in research and teaching.

Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) | Animal welfare legislation
MPI leads and facilitates the management of animal welfare policy and practice in New Zealand. MPI promotes policies for the humane treatment of animals and is an important participant in the ongoing animal welfare debate. This page explains the NZ Animal Welfare Strategy and The Animal Welfare Act.

Schools animal ethics committee

Apply for Animal Ethics Approval
Outlines conditions under which ethical approval is required, such as entering a Science Fair. Also has a list of activities that do not require approval. Two Animal Ethics approval applications (downloadable as PDFs) are on this webpage – one for students and one for teachers.