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January 10, 2014

HSUS’ Family Planning Work - for Elephants

It was momentous that Smithfield Foods and Tyson made announcements this week indicating they are moving away from gestation crates as an accepted method of confining pigs. Momentous in another way was China’s action to destroy six tons of ivory this week as a statement against the killing of elephants for trinkets. In their own way, each announcement is not only hopeful, but startling.

What’s also a bit startling, when it comes to elephants, is that animals who are generally disappearing from the landscape also have localized populations that are abundant – sometimes too abundant for their own good or for the people who live in neighboring communities.

240x270 elephant - credit guenterguni istock
Guenterguni/iStock
A recent study shows elephant contraception is a humane
and effective form of population control.

This issue is most acute in South Africa, especially in the country’s many small parks and private conservancies. So in these cases, the challenge is controlling these subpopulations, and for us, doing it humanely.

A new study published in the Dec. 2013 edition of the “Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine” concludes that the use of immunocontraception to control growth of populations has no detectable behavioral or social consequences – one of the remaining questions about the use of immunocontraception in African elephants.

Audrey K. Delsink, the lead author of the study and Humane Society International’s field director of the Greater Makalali Elephant Contraception Program in South Africa, concluded along with her colleagues that the 11 years of research showed that immunocontraception had no detectable behavioral or social consequences in their study group of elephants, providing a convincing argument for the use of sustained immunocontraception in the medium to long term as an important tool for elephant management.

The HSUS and HSI have funded cutting-edge research on the use of immunocontraception in African elephants since 1996. Immunocontraception is a non-hormonal form of contraception that is based on the scientific principles of disease prevention through vaccination. The immunocontraception vaccine contains agents that, when injected into African elephant cows, causes an immune reaction that prevents eggs from being fertilized by sperm.

Delivered remotely by dart gun, the contraceptive vaccine is being used to successfully control elephant populations in 14 parks and reserves in South Africa.

According to Delsink, “The results of this study demonstrate that concerns about the negative behavioral impact of the use of immunocontraception on African elephants are unfounded. We hope that elephant managers will fully embrace and use this technology to control elephant population growth in a proactive, effective and humane manner.”

We are proud to have been able to support this research for nearly two decades and are pleased that it has resulted in this widely accepted, effective and completely humane way to control elephant population growth.

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