EPA gives thumbs up on vaccine to manage deer populations humanely

By on July 11, 2017 with 31 Comments

For years, when community residents became agitated about the presence of deer in their neighborhoods, government leaders and residents often defaulted to shooting or even killing the animals with arrows as a way to reduce their densities. Now, in a move that will help communities interested in considering a different and humane response to conflicts with wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved the registration of the immunocontraceptive vaccine, Zonastat- D, for the management of deer populations.

Similar to the Zonastat-H vaccine, whose use in the humane control of wild horse populations is well established and effective, Zonastat-D is the trade name for the porcine zona pellucida (PZP) vaccine, adapted for deer. PZP blocks fertilization by triggering the production of antibodies that bind to the protein envelope surrounding the egg.

Adding this vaccine to the management toolbox enables wildlife managers to reduce populations gradually, often without resorting to lethal methods. Sport hunting or sharpshooting management options are often considered unsafe, impractical, and unpalatable in many urban and suburban communities.

The HSUS has traveled a long road with its partners to reach this point. Field studies on deer that provided the foundation for this registration stretch back to 1993, when scientists from the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana, and the University of Toledo joined HSUS staffers to administer the first PZP-filled darts to deer at Fire Island National Seashore in New York. Subsequent HSUS field studies at the National Institute of Standards and Technology – our neighbors in Gaithersburg, Maryland – and a collaboration with Tufts University at Fripp Island, South Carolina, provided more validation. These were experimental programs, and the authorization for the use of the vaccine had only been made at these select locations.

Having treated many hundreds of deer with PZP, HSUS scientists and other researchers who have experience with the vaccine have abundant evidence to demonstrate that it’s safe for the animals, doesn’t pass through the food chain, and is effective in reducing reproductive success. When used properly, PZP reduces fawning rates by 85 to 90 percent. The EPA’s approval of the vaccine affirms those conclusions, and I’m pleased to see this piece of good news for animals coming out of the Trump administration.

But there’s still work to be done. The HSUS will need to work with state wildlife agencies and legislatures to ensure that the use of PZP — where appropriate — is sanctioned. And now that Zonastat-D is federally registered, The HSUS is looking forward to working with communities whose residents want to embrace non-lethal programs and build comprehensive, humane solutions that will encourage all of us to better understand and celebrate our wild neighbors.

When it comes to 21st century wildlife management, we need more options than mass killing. PZP is one revolutionary option that can help remake our relationship with deer, wild horses, elephants, and other species where localized overabundance is a social and even an ecological concern.

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about non-lethal wildlife management, I recommend checking out the Botstiber Institute’s 8th International Conference on Wildlife Fertility Control, which The HSUS is co-hosting next week in Washington D.C. The use of fertility control for deer populations, as well as many other species, will be discussed by experts from around the world. Register here for the conference.

Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Rallyn Tucker says:

    How do you administer?

  2. nancy says:

    Oh my gosh .this is wonderful news …..We must stop killing animals as we do and this method will really be a plus in being able to make sure the herds don’t get out of control and more importantly they are not murdered ……..This is good news indeed . Lets hope no one tears it apart and goes back to the killings.

  3. Lizz L says:

    Why can’t they be surgically sterilized instead of darted with a vaccine ? But either way at least the numbers will go down over time in urban/suburban areas unlike deer-killing programs that don’t result in long-term population reduction.

    • Lucy McKernan says:

      Surg results in stillbirths infections and mortality. And does continue to emit pheromones causing bucks to chase. PZP is not surg but chem.its time has come.

      • Lizz L says:

        I haven’t researched the issue in depth, just remember hearing a few years ago about GonaCon which is also EPA registered and was supposed to be different than PZP in that PZP-vaccinated animals still exhibit mating behaviors while GonaCon vaccinated deer don’t try to mate.

      • Sandy Porter says:

        There was a Cornell University study in which they performed tubal ligation (tying off the ovarian tubes) on a number of does in the local deer population, and concluded ‘This doesn’t work, you get a “buck magnet” as the ovaries are left intact and still release hormones. That was, shall we say, stupid. I can’t believe they didn’t realize that beforehand. The form of sterilization that my group has recommended before this point has been surgical sterilization of does by removal of the ovaries. The approval of PZP in the form of Zonastat-D is a game-changer since removing the ovaries is very expensive (~$1,000/doe, generally) and much more invasive a process. We have a community meeting to discuss a deer management plan, and you can bet that Zonastat-D will be a big part of the conversation.

  4. Dave says:

    This product does not make any claims about preventing females from going into- or STAYING in an estrous cycle. These cycles are well documented to cause male deer to actually rut themselves to death! So long as female deer are producing eggs regardless of weather they are receptive to sperm, males will chase them in an attempt to mate.
    As usual humans playing God will result in un-natural biological response from animals.
    Human harvest is a natural way to provide high quality protein. Harvest is most often fast and effective and results in 100% perfect termination of reproductive success.

  5. Lucy McKernan says:

    I have researched urban deer, seer vehicle crash stats, politics a d economics of hunting and cultural vs biological carrying capacity of deer for 10 years. I have conversed w many leading wildlife biologists and — having once been a believer in thinning herds — I know factually that ALL, repeat ALL lethal measures to control deer fail and that they are at best misguided and, unfortunately, more often, deliberately driven by profit power and control- – based ln humans’ species-centric dominion complex. I would prefer no interference whatsoever but this complex HUMAN CAUSED modern dilemma may best be served at least for a while by PZP chemical birth control. I am currently in appeals in a lawsuit against my city govt for illegal passage of bow hunting. I encourage everyone to rethink this issue based on sweeping metadata NO LETHAL MEASURES CONTROL DEER. Ohio Div Wildlife deliberately maintains via maximum sustainable yield pops between 50 and 75 % to guarantee rebound and future harvest to continue $$ and all these agencies violate Public Trust Doctrine. We are taking back control and revealing truth that hunting as conservation is outdated profit driven catering to shrinking minority of backyard Fudds and conflicted public park and property stewards.

    • Barton Carey says:

      Your criticisms of “fudds” reveals your true motives.

    • Jeff says:

      So true on all accounts Lucy. Thank you for summing up all these previous failures and the reasons why killing is still the default method.

    • Alexis Foxx says:

      WOW! Beautifully stated. I find it very heartening that the truth is coming out slowly. Years ago, no one talked about it and it was the wildlife agency’s dirty little secret that deer are in effect bred for the bullet. Habitat modifications still abound to increase so-called “game” species for profit and to keep hunters satisfied, much to the detriment of the environment, the ecosystem, and the (on average) 94% of us that do not hunt. Wild animals have changed the way they live in response to being hunted by humans, many formerly diurnal species becoming nocturnal. Those of us that appreciate and want to view wildlife are unable to enjoy them because of the selfishness of hunters and their wildlife agencies.

  6. Barton Carey says:

    One of the biggest problems in our “modern” society is that everything can be controlled scientifically, or chemically.
    Europe has banned GMO products for decades but yet the good folks at Monsanto continue to poison you with glyphosate treatments on wheat harvested in the USA.
    NO market meat product on the planet is not somehow genetically engineered or modified, shot full of anti-biotics, or treated with preservatives. NONE !!

    Praising organics now will not help you.

    I have successfully and efficiently harvested over a hundred deer with archery gear alone, not to mention the firearm harvest. I do not trophy hunt, I am a DEER hunter. Most do not even have a clue how hard it is to take a deer, much less have someone who doesn’t do it preach to them how easy it is to just indiscriminately gun down deer with hell fire.

    I assure you it DOES NOT work that way.

    Multiple stage chemical contraceptives are effective at penned up deer in NIST which have no fear of humans to begin with and can be easily re- identified to administer subsequent doses.
    Try that with a wild , TRULY will animal.
    I will gladly laugh at you as the animals win time and time again.
    There biggest lie there is the needed to vilify hunting as barbaric and arcane and no longer needed because animals come wrapped in plastic now.
    The motives behind the movements are cleverly disguised in meta data gathered from institutions that support your agendas and when confronted with data that refused your findings then silence and a new territory to find cooperation is usually the result.
    I will continue to hunt until i can’t do it anymore, this will occur when i lay still with my maker, who did not put me on this Earth to do his job.

    Believe what you want about your chemical contraceptives, the problem isn’t because of the deer, who by the way were here long before you or I, it’s the human need to want to control everything around them.

    • EC says:

      Hunting is not a problem. It never has been with these overly abundant deer (Mulies, White-tail, various subspecies). Most of us behind the project don’t have any issues with hunting, especially for your own sustenance! I personally think that’s great that that is how you provide for yourself. The problem here is that the deer cannot be hunted in these areas (completely urban-suburban areas) because we obviously cannot use firearms in these environments. To do any kind of lethal management, they had to be bolt gunned and had their throats slit (which I’m sure as a hunter who respects wildlife you would frown upon). We are simply trying to find a solution that is humane and can be completed in an urban environment. This is an exciting development for many communities that have extremely large populations of certain species like the ones mentioned in the article.

    • Alexis Foxx says:

      Your last sentence made sense!

  7. Barton Carey says:

    Realistically it’s very simple.
    If you don’t like wildlife, then do us all a favor who do, and stay in the city where you belong.

  8. Mary W says:

    We have deer in our backyard almost every day – they eat so many of my flowers and vegetable and fruit trees. I do not hunt. I do love venison to eat. My son and grandson’s hunt and bring me venison which is very good. How do I know that the meat will NOT harm me or my granddaughters with the vaccine? I’m not sure I do approve this. Wild horses are not hunted for meat but deer are and hunters usually do a better job than factories do while humanely shooting a deer causing instant death. Factories are well known to be horror houses for killing the meat we buy in the grocery store. Chicken, pigs, steers, etc. are turned into soup, pork and hamburger but each time we buy meat, we don’t think about how it got to the store. I would rather take pictures than take lives of animals but certainly think most hunters value the life they take and love to eat the meat they provide. Most hunters are NOT trophy hunters!

  9. BJ says:

    Great, so now the females will die off from cancer of the uterus or some other internal organ

    At least maybe the inhumane murder by “BOLT” will stop.

    • Alexis Foxx says:

      That’s about as weak as the argument that we have to kill the deer otherwise they will die from starvation. Give it a rest.

  10. Millie P. Schafer, PhD says:

    Thank you HSUS! It’s interesting to see how hunters feel threatened by this humane effort to stabilize and reduce our urban deer population. There will always be those people who get a “thrill in the kill” but many of us do not want this approach. Bow hunting is clearly inhumane and inefficient in regard to stabilizing and reducing urban deer populations. Both birth control vaccines have been extensively studied and proven to be safe. Yes, you can eat these proteins and they won’t hurt you. Like other proteins, these protein products are degraded in the deer’s body. It’s the deer’s own immune response to this protein that prevents pregnancy. It should also be noted that the purpose of our urban/suburban parks has nothing to do with putting food on the table. To shut the taxpaying residents out so bow hunters can use them for a violent blood sport in upsetting and a “slap” in the faces of all of us who want peace and tranquility in our urban parks – and want free access to them all year.

  11. Lucy McKernan says:

    Perhaps I should have made myself perfectly clear by stating the obvious: Uh, yeah, my motive is to reduce suffering. Like that’s a bad thing. Reminder, this is a HUMANE society article. Wow.

  12. Cynthia Fain says:

    The idea that we as humans have the right to kill animals in some insane attempt to manage and control them – is ethically abhorrent. There is way too much violence permitted to wildlife and sport hunting does nothing to respect wildlife at all. Killing animals for sport and management degrades all life forms. I don’t agree with the idea that deer are so over populated. I think our species is way out of control with over population and lacks fundamental respect for other forms of life. This deer birth control could be a major humane option when intolerant people want to have mass deer kills.

  13. American Hunter says:

    The only reason you liberals want to sterilize deer instead of letting the hunters control the populations is so you can advance your anti-gun agenda. If hunters no longer get to use there guns for hunting, the federal government will ban the guns. Then the liberal government will be able to force upon whatever ideology they will to. Then freedom will be gone. America was founded on the right to bear arms, and hunting was and still is an accepted way to put food on the table. Let hunters hunt, if you ban hunting, hunters will hunt illegally instead, but will not be controllled.

    • Alexis Foxx says:

      Hunters already hunt illegally. Take a look at the law enforcement reports of all the state wildlife agencies. This is just a drop in the bucket, because only a very small percentage of the lawbreakers are caught. Even fewer are punished. Legal hunting actually INCREASES illegal hunting. Hunters and state wildlife agencies DO “control the populations,” which is how the problem started to begin with. Deer populations are managed for maximum sustainable yield so that hunters have a high success rate, kill more deer, and state wildlife agencies get more revenue from the sale of licenses and tags. Habitat is modified to keep preferred “game” species at high levels so that hunters can kill more. It’s a blood sport, a reality that is finally coming to light. Sorry, but none of this has anything to do with your “right to bear arms.”

  14. TA says:

    This is horrible and sick and lacking in long term wisdom. Chemical mechanisms to sterilize a species? Science makes mistakes, and how do we know the long term impact on deer without studies that span centuries not decades. Sick. I’m sure some folks who lack real wisdom would love to bring this to the human species one day.

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