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August 29, 2012

Contraception on the Agenda for Wildlife Management

As the global human population ticks upward every second and we settle more land and demand more in the way of natural resources, our impact on wildlife will increase. And so, too, will our conflicts with wild creatures. How we manage those conflicts will test our moral intuition, our tolerance, and our ingenuity. One thing is for sure: we’ve got to expand the tool kit to allow for innovative forms of non-lethal wildlife management, in order to serve our needs and to allow animals to survive.

Two wild horses in the grass
Kayla Grams

Over a quarter-century, The HSUS has invested millions in the advancement of wildlife contraception science and technology, as a proactive tool to manage populations in a humane manner. We’ve done a tremendous amount of research and testing, and now we are in the phase of application, whether it’s wild horses on our public lands, elephants in provincial or national parks in South Africa, or deer in communities across the United States.

This week in Jackson Hole, Wyo., The HSUS co-sponsored two conferences on wildlife contraception. The Wild Horse Symposium on Tuesday was a collaboration of The HSUS, Humane Society International, the Annenberg Foundation, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, and it drew together more than 80 stakeholders from government, academia, and the nonprofit sector. It included presentations on the latest scientific and technical developments, the regulatory challenges associated with approval for contraceptive agents, the successful delivery systems for contraception, the economics of wild horse management, and the role of sanctuaries and the nonprofit advocacy community.

It is a real source of pride to me that The HSUS, thanks to the Annenberg Foundation and other supporters, has been able to extend its work on fertility control as a strategy to protect horses and reduce costs to the federal government. The HSUS has been working on wild horse issues at Assateague in the East, in the Pryor Mountains in the West, and elsewhere since the mid-1960s, trying to halt harsh and unacceptable roundups and other manhandling of horses and to promote alternative approaches. That day is here now.

The 7th International Conference on Fertility Control in Wildlife, a three-day event at the same venue, is still in progress, and it represents a meeting of the best and the brightest in the work of securing advancements in the science, ethics, and technology of animal contraception. Our elephant contraception team came through Washington, D.C, on their way to the Wyoming conference, and I heard presentations from them about contraceptive agents, appropriate delivery methods, field testing, population effects, animal welfare implications, social, cultural, and political challenges, and how their work is already saving lives and proving that we can make cruel culling of elephants an obsolete management tool.

On Tuesday evening, the proceedings in Jackson included the presentation of special honors for some of the pioneers in contraception work, notably Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Kim Frank, Robin Lyda, Allen Rutberg, Allison Turner, John Turner, Carl Zimmerman, and The HSUS’s senior vice president for wildlife, John Grandy. Their roles in the promotion and implementation of this approach cannot be overstated.

The field of wildlife fertility control is now about 40 years old, and for various reasons, there is a special role for nonprofit organizations like The HSUS and Humane Society International to play. Wild animals have a rightful place on our planet, and we’ve got to do our best to manage conflicts in ways that are humane, sustainable, and consistent with the values of people throughout the world.

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