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When, Where and for What Wildlife Species Will Contraception Be a Useful Management Approach?

  • Author(s): Fagerstone, Kathleen A.
  • Miller, Lowell A.
  • Bynum, Kimberly S.
  • Eisemann, John D.
  • Yoder, Christi A.
  • et al.

Despite the fact that many wildlife species have become overabundant both in North America and other parts of the world, the public is increasingly unwilling to manage wildlife populations with traditional techniques such as trapping or lethal methods. A growing segment of the public is urging the use of contraceptives to reduce populations of overabundant free-ranging wildlife. In spite of public pressure, the development and use of wildlife fertility control techniques has been slow to occur, partially because of the difficulty in developing efficient, cost-effective methods, and partially because of misconceptions about these potential techniques. The regulatory authority for contraceptives has recently been moved from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the extensive EPA registration process is both rigorous and costly. Only one wildlife contraceptive is currently registered and available: the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) worked to develop a product for reducing the hatchability of Canada goose eggs in cooperation with Innolytics, LLC, who holds the registration for OvoControl® G. Development is continuing for additional experimental products. Another product developed by the NWRC, the single-shot GonaCon™ Immunocontraceptive Vaccine is poised to begin the registration process. A third product, DiazaCon™, will be soon tested for field efficacy and should begin the registration process within the year. No single wildlife contraceptive technique would be applicable for use in all wildlife species and for all management situations for a particular species. Differences in animal physiology and behavior, as well as differences in the ecology of the damage, affect which contraceptives will be most effective. Therefore, contraceptives with different modes of action will need to be developed for different species and uses. Wildlife contraceptives will not replace other management tools and will probably have a limited use, primarily in urban/suburban areas. In most species, wildlife contraceptives will not rapidly reduce populations. Populations of short-lived species such as rodents could be rapidly reduced with contraceptives; however, in long-lived species such as deer and horses, it would take years to reduce populations with fertility control alone, and damage caused by those species will continue to occur. This manuscript will discuss what contraceptive techniques are being developed by the USDA Wildlife Services NWRC, and when, where, and for what species they may be applicable.

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