Elephants on birth control

2014-03-05 14:41
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Cape Town - A wetland park in KwaZulu-Natal has for the first time provided the elephants in its parks with a contraceptive vaccine.

Elephant numbers in the iSimangaliso have grown exponentially, to the point that officials have introduced a immunocontraceptive in order to limit the numbers in 15 parks and reserves according to a report provided by the Humane Society.

Tembe Elephant Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and Ithala Park have all successfully introduced the contraceptive.

Immunocontraception is a form of birth control that is non-hormonal and immunises the elephant through a vaccine.

Trafficking and ivory poaching severely threaten African elephants, but in South Africa poaching is predominantly low and as such populations of elephants have grown to the point that they now have to be monitored and reduced.

This is particularly a large problem in private conservations and smaller parks that are enclosed. The main aim is to protect the biodiversity and ecosystems within the parks from being destroyed due to elephant overpopulation.

Scientific research conducted over the last 18 years has shown that immunocontraception is an effective but also safe way to control the population of elephants. The studies have shown that the vaccine has no effect on the behaviour of the animal and is reversible. This means that park managers and gamekeepers can fine tune the elephant population growth.

The Humane Society International (HSI) has provided large amounts of funds into research on using immunocontraception in elephants since the late 1990s.

The immunocontraception vaccine according to the HSI has agents that causes an immune response to occur in African elephant cows that prevents the elephants eggs from being fertilised by the males sperm.

A further advantage is the fact that the vaccine can be administered via dart gun so its minimally invasive and therefore there is no need for anaesthetisation.

What this new form of contraception does is decrease the use of culling or relocation which is expensive and far less desirable. The HSI state that such methods do not stop the problem because populations reactively increase by continuing to procreate.

It is the hope of Audrey Delsink, the field director of HSI, that other elephant parks use this method of controlling elephant populations rather than culling or relocation.

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