International Fertility Control Conference Highlights Momentum in Humane Management of Wildlife

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Last month, the Botstiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control hosted the 8th International Conference on Wildlife Fertility Control International Conference, which was promoted as a “continuation of an international forum for research into the management of wildlife through contraception that began almost 30 years ago.”

Over 100 attendees and speakers, representing a range of disciplines and 10 countries from as far away as India and Australia, contributed to three days of engaging presentations and thoughtful discussion that focused on the progress, challenges, roles, and forms of wildlife fertility control for multiple species – including kangaroos, raccoons, koalas, elephants, bison, feral swine, squirrels and, of course, wild horses and burros!  

Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, opened the conference with welcoming comments.

The Keynote Speaker was Dr. Raman Sukumar. A professor of ecology at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Dr. Sukumar is internationally known for his research on the ecology, behavior, and conservation of Asian elephants.

As emphasized by featured speaker Dr. Giovanna Massei, Leader of the U.K.’s Wildlife Research and Control Team, as well as other presenters, nonlethal approaches to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts in “an overcrowded world” are becoming increasing necessary and desirable due to social, environmental, and biological factors.   

Although many presentations highlighted successful fertility control research studies and programs, a reoccurring theme among them was the need for improved delivery systems, broad-scale applications of contraceptions, and longer-lasting birth control treatments as well as a persistent lack of financial and personnel resources.  

On the wild horse front, several studies had important implications for contraception efforts on large wild horse areas – an ongoing management challenge for both the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies.

Two presentations focused on the use of PZP.  Dr. Allen Rutberg of the Tufts/Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine reported that booster doses of either native PZP or PZP-22 were equally effective in reducing foaling rates for least three years after application to mares in the Cedar Mountain Herd Management Area in Utah and the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area in Colorado.  The research suggests that current contraception tools can achieve dramatic reductions in population growth if more than 70% of the mares in the herd receive maintenance fertility control treatments.

Dr. Kat Carey, also from Tufts/Cummings, described the findings from the first study demonstrating the efficacy of priming doses of PZP- 22 delivered by dart instead of by hand in the Jarita Mesa Wild Horse Territory in New Mexico.  In the 26 treated mares, foaling rates were reduced by almost 80% in the first year of the study and nearly 40% in the second year.

Working with wild mares in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Dr. Jenny Powers of the National Park Service reported on research that evaluated the long-term effectiveness of GonaCon as an initial vaccination and then a booster vaccination.  The decrease in foal rates was modest after the first single vaccination, but revaccination four years later resulted in suppression of fertility for at least two years with inflammation of the injection site being the only side effect.  The study of 57 mares, who were divided into a control and a treatment groups indicated that there were no differences in social behavior between the two groups.

While contraception for wild burros is still in a nascent stage, one study showed promising results.  Dr. Hillary French of the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in St. Kitts discussed the use of native PZP and a novel recombinant PZP vaccine as an alternative for fertility control in feral donkeys in the Caribbean.  Although there were injection site reactions in most of the 17 jennies treated with either form of PZP, none of them became pregnant during the study. Dr. French emphasized the need for further research using alternative adjuvants that provided similar efficacy without the side effects.

During the conference reception, two long-time proponents of fertility control were honored for their contributions to the field.  The Botstiber Institute presented Priscilla Cohn with an award for her early support of contraception for deer and the first fertility control conference as well as her continuing activism.  Dr. John Turner also delivered a moving tribute to Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick.  Founder of the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, MT and a pioneer of fertility control as a way to humanely manage populations of wild horses, bison, and urban deer, Dr. Kirkpatrick passed away in 2015.

The recently created Botstiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control is a partnership between The Humane Society of the United States and the Dietrich W. Botstiber Foundation.

The conference was held at the Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.