Wild animal birth control: politics vs. science


Billings Gazette , April 18, 2013 12:15 am  •  By Brett French

(NOTE – Comments sought: The Billings Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management is seeking comment on a proposal to conduct fertility control on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd. Comments will be taken until May 7. To comment, write to Jim Sparks, field manager, at the BLM Billings Field Office, 5001 Southgate Dr., Billings, MT 59101. Or fax comments to 896-5281. To read a copy of the scoping letter, click here or see the attachment in this story at billingsgazette.com.}

Jay F. Kirkpatrick explains how the Billings-based Science and Conservation Center’s animal contraceptive vaccine works.BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff

Jay F. Kirkpatrick explains how the Billings-based Science and Conservation Center’s animal contraceptive vaccine works.BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff

The management of wild horse herds and flourishing urban deer populations is so politically charged that science often gets pushed aside, said Jay Kirkpatrick, of the Billings-based Science and Conservation Center.

Kirkpatrick, one of the founders of SCS, spoke to the Conservation Roundtable on Tuesday at the First Interstate Operations Center. His company, a nonprofit, creates a vaccine called PZP that acts as a contraceptive in wild animals.

Burgeoning wild horse populations on Western federal lands — including the Pryor Mountain and McCullough Peaks wild horse ranges — have led to controversial roundups and trapping of the horses to keep herds from growing unchecked.

Urban deer, finding safe havens in city parks and wooded areas, likewise have grown and required some cities to find ways to reduce their numbers. In Helena, deer are trapped and killed. In Glendive, Colstrip and Fort Benton, the deer can be hunted under special programs.

Kirkpatrick argued that these methods don’t address the underlying problem — reproduction. He said that removal of animals simply results in compensatory reproduction, which can lead to increased birth rates among the targeted animals.

PZP is a vaccine made from pig ovaries that, when injected into a female animal, causes her antibodies to attack. The antibodies also seek out the animal’s own eggs and prevent conception. Like any vaccine, the effects wear off and a booster is needed.

SCS proved the possibilities of the immunocontraceptive at Assateague Island National Seashore on the East Coast. In the Maryland portion of the park, PZP has kept the wild horse herd at a sustainable level without roundups or removals.

“We stopped growth overnight and it took several years to start to decline,” Kirkpatrick said.

The cost, he said, is roughly $106 to dart one horse. In the Pryor Mountains, he estimated the cost to remove one horse at $2,165.

CONTINUED — Read more and comment!

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • There is NO excess of wild horses so PZP or any method of birth control is Not needed. 80% of herds are not genetically viable and sustainable.

    April 19, 2013
  • K G

    Just for my own curious mind, I recently did some basic figuring to get a general estimate of how many wild horses and burros COULD and SHOULD be on their Congressional designated land and here is what I found. BLM has said that it can take as many as 240 acres per horse per year in parts of Nevada (that sounds like an exaggerated number to me … but used it just as an example). So using that very generalized number there should be between 131,666 to 224,166 wild horses and burros on their legal land today.

    1971 WH&B legally designated acreage 53.8 mil total = 224,166 wild horses and burros

    2013 WH&B legally designated acreage 31.6 mil total = 131,666 wild horses and burros

    As of this time, the BLM and USFS have reduced the number of WH&B down to about ~20,000 and they are still removing them. What does this tell us? Our government agencies (BLM & USFS) who are mandated to PROTECT the wild horses and burros are truly managing them toward extinction. There is no reason to PZP the wild horses and burros because there are NO EXCESS wild horses and burros on their congressionally designated legal land.

    April 19, 2013