Friday, July 30, 2010

NEW YORK NEWS: Village to Try Deer Contraception

Luckily the deer will not be asked to carry condoms or remember to take a pill at the same time every night, but if Hastings mayor Peter Swiderski's most recent plan to reduce the deer population goes forward, promiscuous does will soon be stymied in their efforts to take over the village.

Immunocontraception, a cutting-edge technology in the arena of animal control, was disclosed last night as the mayor's preferred approach to reducing the number of deer in Hastings.

Allen Rutberg, a professor at Tufts University, and leading researcher in the field of immunocontraception, said this method could potentially be effective on deer populations in suburban communities, but that it's still in the research phase.

"Introducing immunocontraception into a population of deer is complicated because it requires that the process be strongly supported by the community," Rutberg said, meaning that a long-term commitment to the program is necessary for success.

A 10-year employee of the Humane Society of America, Rutberg views immunocontraception as a middle-ground solution to a problem that generally offers no compromise.

"Whether to control a growing population of deer is generally a no-win issue," Rutberg said. "Some people feel strongly—and for different reasons—that deer should be killed and others believe strongly in protecting animal rights."

By hitting does with small vaccine darts, scientists are able to inject a naturally-occurring protein called Porcine (pig) Zonapellucida (PZP), which sterilizes the animals for what Rutberg believes to be about two years. This means animals would need to be re-vaccinated two years after the initial dose.

"The way it works is really cool," Rutberg said. "The PZP forms a protein envelope around female deer's eggs so that fertilization cannot occur. We use the pig Zonapellucida because other large mammals injected with pig protein develop antibodies that block fertilization sites on their own eggs as well."

Zonapellucida antibodies are nothing like any other protein in the deer's body, Rutberg said, so there is no risk of destroying other aspects of the animal's anatomy or temperament.

Another concern scientists have posed is whether if a human hunted and ate a deer—which is illegal though certainly not unheard of in Westchester—if she, too, could become infertile.

"There is absolutely no chance of that happening," Rutberg said. "The protein needs to be injected directly into the blood stream to work. Because it is extracted directly from a pig ovary it is probably no different from some of the ingredients in common dog food."

One shortcoming of Rutberg and his colleagues' studies thus far is that they have all been conducted in fairly contained areas, such as Fire Island and a federal campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

"Studies show that 90 percent of female deer don't wander very far throughout their lives," Rutberg said. "I imagine the efficacy rate would be similar for both contained and open populations."

But New York Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach is not convinced.

"This type of study is very hard to conduct in a wild population," Rosenbach said. "They can be hard to control and very expensive."

Swiderski disagrees with the expense of such action, saying each vaccine would cost no more than $30 and the village could probably apply for grants.

Though Rosenbach said the DEC would review an application for a permit to try immunocontraception, she thought it would be difficult to approve. "I don't believe we have issued a permit for this type of wildlife control," Rosenbach said. "If it were part of a study, that would be a different matter, and we would have to work closely with the scientist conducting the research."

But Rutberg is thrilled to be on the forefront of a non-lethal means of population control he truly believes will work.

"Though I no longer speak for the Humane Society, I can say with confidence a net-and-bolt cull is not something they condone," Rutberg said. "For us, immunocontraception was just a natural progression from our community outreach programs teaching the importance of spaying and neutering pets."

Now, the question is whether it will work.

Swiderski acknowledges the possibility that immunocontraception won't be the silver bullet--or dart--many hope it will, but said: "It's easier to turn back on a non-lethal approach that fails, shrug and say, 'We tried.'"

Source: Hastings-Dobbs Ferry Patch

1 comment:

WV Frank said...

How's the study going? Has the state approved a permit? Any success getting grants?