Calls are being made to remove dissections from first-year courses as the killing of animals at universities comes under fresh scrutiny.
Almost 10,000 animals died at the University of Auckland last year, according to figures supplied to the Ministry of Primary Industries. The count at Otago University was even higher at 12,500.
Scientific use of animals has been in the news with speculation over testing legal highs. This month, Prime Minister John Key ruled out any animal testing on legal-high products after Parliament banned synthetic products until they can be proved safe.
Animal rights advocates are appalled at the university deaths, which include mice, rats, rabbits, sheep, pigs and chickens, plus fish, squid and crabs.
Law students , 19, have set up a petition to protest against Auckland University's "waste" of animals.
The Auckland University Animal Rights group wants the number reduced by 20 per cent, starting by allowing students to opt out of dissection and removing it from first-year papers. The petition has gathered almost a quarter of its 2,000-signature goal.
McIntyre and Davies also want all students to be allowed to refuse to do dissections without it affecting their grades.
"The response students have had when they want to opt out is quite varied," said Davies.
"One person was told she would fail her degree, while another was told 'it's fine'. More than one person has shown up and there's a dead rat there. They're told they don't have to dissect, but it's been killed for them anyway."
A second-year biomedical student, who preferred not to be named, said it was made clear she had no choice. "I don't want to be labelled 'the difficult kid' but I think the use of animals — in first year in particular — is excessive," she said. "So many students go on and change their studies after first year."
Auckland University media adviser Anne Beston said it would be "unlikely" anyone from the university would comment until the petition had been presented.
Biological sciences lecturer Dr Brendon Dunphy said he wouldn't fail students for declining to dissect. He allows them to watch a partner instead.
He agreed animals could be shared in first-year papers.
Anti-Vivisection Society spokesman Stephen Manson said alternatives such as detailed computer software and 3D models could replace animals.