Magic Pill for Managing Animal Populations?

By on May 4, 2010 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

When there are conflicts between humans and wildlife, our first instinct at The HSUS is to resolve them in non-lethal ways. We are smart and creative enough as a species to find ways to solve problems when lives are at stake. That’s one reason why The HSUS has long supported the use of birth control technologies, as a means of humanely controlling animal populations and diminishing the likelihood of conflicts.

We’ve led the effort to develop and apply groundbreaking technologies that are humane and effective, whether it involves elephants in South African parks, wild horses on western rangelands, or white-tailed deer in suburban communities or island ecosystems. We have funded research with the porcine zona pellucida (PZP) vaccine, and promoted and financed the work of entrepreneurs and scientists working to perfect the technologies.

The chemical pathway for successful contraceptives (products that prevent fertilization) and contragestives (products that prevent gestation) varies from species to species. Delivery mechanisms also provide a challenge, as do concerns over human safety and impact on non-targeted species. Nevertheless, the use of birth control technologies continues to advance, with elephants, brown bears, kangaroos, and even koalas getting the treatment.

Pigeon on park bench

We’re also anxious to apply this tool to domesticated animals, as an alternative to surgical spaying and neutering. Chemical birth control may hold the key to addressing dog and cat overpopulation throughout the world, and The HSUS is working with partners like the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs and the Found Animals Foundation that are helping to lead the way.

When it comes to dealing with birds, such as geese, ducks, and pigeons, the California-based firm Innolytics is a pioneer in humane, non-lethal approaches. Its product, OvoControl, is a kibble bait that uses the compound nicarbazin to effectively reduce egg hatching rates. Long used in the commercial poultry industry, nicarbazin’s effects are not permanent and there is no evidence that it produces health or environmental consequences other than its prevention of egg development. It poses no threat to birds of prey or non-target bird species because it rapidly clears from the system, and when properly administered, it is not consumed in large enough quantities to alter reproduction in non-target birds.

OvoControl has been effective in reducing bird populations in communities throughout the United States, including Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, and Tucson. Until quite recently, it was only available for use by licensed pesticide applicators. In March, however, the Environmental Protection Agency provided a general-use approval for OvoControl for pigeons.

This is especially good news for those who wish to humanely control conflicts with these birds. For more than a hundred years, they have been subject to “control” through poisoning, trapping, and shooting or other flock reduction procedures that are simply inhumane. Now, we have a better way.

If general use of OvoControl is expanded, the same may soon be true for Muscovy ducks in Florida or feral chickens in Hawaii as well as others. Innolytics also recently secured a grant from the Gates Foundation to research mammalian contraception using nicarbazin, primarily to address issues in developing countries where as much as 30 percent of harvestable crops may be consumed by rodents. In addition, company founder Erick Wolf believes that OvoControl could have significant potential for the management of feral cat populations.

The use of birth control technology would advance even faster and further if wildlife agencies and the sport hunting lobby did not have a knee-jerk opposition to it. Agency bureaucrats are always saying that they are ready to use every tool in the kit, but they have been slow and frequently obstructionist in this arena. Quasi-governmental groups such as the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies have taken a particularly hard stance against the concept of animal contraception. It will be particularly interesting to see whether wildlife and agriculture agencies continue to obstruct progress, even though it will provide benefit for private citizens, farmers, governments, and private industries.

No birth control technology available to us today is perfect, but it is obvious that the path to improvement lies in application and testing and refinement in the field, through real-world experiences and development. Innovations like these will undoubtedly transform social and public policy approaches to human-animal conflicts. Perhaps that is what so worries these hidebound agencies mired in some archaic traditions and fearful of the changes that new values and technologies may bring.

Animal Research and Testing, Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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