A Q&A with the Filmmaker and Animal Grantmakers Member: The Botstiber Institute of Wildlife Fertility Control

Q: What is the Botstiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control?

The Botstiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control (BIWFC) was established in August 2016 through a partnership between the Dietrich W. Botstiber Foundation and The Humane Society of the United States. The Institute aims to advance the use of effective, sustainable fertility control methods to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts and promote coexistence worldwide. The Institute serves as a resource center for the burgeoning field of wildlife fertility control by stimulating vital discussion, collaboration and networking through events, supporting wildlife fertility control projects through grants, and educating wildlife managers, policy makers, and the public.

Q: What is wildlife fertility control?

Wildlife fertility control is a nonlethal method of population management which focuses on reducing the birth rates of wildlife rather than increasing the mortality rates.

Q: How long has wildlife fertility control been in use?

Research on wildlife contraception began in the 1960s. Surgical contraception research has been ongoing since the 1970s. Immunocontraception methods emerged in the 1980s.

Q: Why is wildlife fertility control important?

As human populations have expanded, conflicts between humans and wildlife have increased exponentially. Up until recently, efforts to resolve such conflicts focused primarily on lethal population management methods, including, but not limited to, culls with firearms, archery equipment, traps, and toxicants. Lethal wildlife management methods can be cruel, ineffective, logistically unfeasible, socially unacceptable, unsustainable and/or environmentally hazardous. In the late 20th century, in response to human health and safety, animal welfare and environmental concerns associated with these traditional wildlife management practices, researchers began exploring the possibility of mitigating conflicts by using fertility control to manage wildlife populations in situations where exclusion or repellents are not sufficient. Today, in many situations, wildlife fertility control can serve as an effective and sustainable wildlife management strategy where necessary and appropriate.

Q: How does wildlife fertility control work?

There are several different types of methods for conducting wildlife fertility control programs. An obvious one is surgical sterilization, which is similar to spay and neuter programs that are conducted to manage populations of free-roaming cats and dogs. Others are fertility control agents – drugs or immunocontraception vaccines – that are administered either via hand-injection or delivered remotely with a dart that will cause an animal to either be temporarily or permanently infertile.

Q: How effective is wildlife fertility control?

Surgical sterilization is 100% effective, but the efficacy and longevity of the agents depends upon the species, the individual animal and his/her response to the agent. For most species, reversible immunocontraceptive vaccines, like PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida) and GonaCon, require boosters annually or once every two to three years to maintain their effectiveness (although longevity of effectiveness may increase over three consecutive years of treatment). For example, annual treatment of wild horses and white‐tailed deer with Native PZP typically reduces pregnancy rates by 80‐90%.

Q: Is wildlife fertility control sustainable?

Yes. The goal of developing wildlife fertility control methods and agents is to provide wildlife managers with humane, effective and sustainable tools for managing wildlife populations.

Q: Could wildlife fertility control methods replace the need for harmful rodenticides?

Yes. There are oral commensal rodent contraceptives on the market today that could be used to replace rodenticides (such as second-generation anticoagulants) in integrated, multi-faceted programs that include exclusion or removal of sources of attraction.

Q: Why did the BIWFC make a documentary about wildlife fertility control?

We decided to make a film to tell the story of wildlife fertility control that could be enjoyed and understood by a wide audience – whether you were acquainted with the issues or had never really given it much thought. The film gives an overview of ways that fertility control is being used among various species of wildlife. As human populations expand, human-wildlife conflicts will grow and, consequently, the issue of wildlife fertility control will grow in importance, urgency, and complexity.

Q: What is the goal of the film?

The film was made to educate and inform practitioners in the wildlife community, policy makers, and the general public. It’s vitally important for people to understand what we mean when we say “wildlife fertility control” and the role that it can play in reducing human-wildlife conflicts and promoting coexistence.

Q: Does the documentary give examples of wildlife fertility control being used successfully?

Yes. The immunocontraceptive vaccine PZP is being used to manage culturally and historically significant herds of wild horses on Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and at the Pryor Mountains Herd Management Area in Montana. These are just two of many examples in the film where fertility control is being used to manage wildlife populations successfully.

Q: What types of groups and organizations should consider using wildlife fertility control?

The intent of developing wildlife fertility control methods is to provide entities managing wildlife populations on public and private lands with humane, effective, and sustainable alternatives that can be used in situations where lethal methods are ineffective, logistically unfeasible, socially unacceptable, unsustainable, and/or environmentally hazardous. Our film, “An Overview of Wildlife Fertility Control,” provides viewers with some excellent case studies where wildlife managers are using fertility control to address conflicts with wild horses, wild burros, urban deer, prairie dogs and commensal rodents.

Q: Can anyone utilize wildlife fertility control? For example, can a general consumer buy it to reduce the number of rats on their property or in their area?

No, but people can contract with certified pesticide applicators in their respective states that are licensed to use currently available oral rodent contraceptives, like ContraPest, as part of an integrated rodent management program, or OvoControl for pigeons.

Q: Does wildlife fertility control harm individual animals in any way?

As with spay and neuter programs with cats and dogs, there are inherent risks associated with surgical sterilization programs. However, contraceptive agents like PZP and GonaCon are safe, proven, humane and effective fertility control agents.

Q: Does the BIWFC fund fertility control programs?

Through its grants program, the BIWFC funds projects related to fertility control that align with the Institute’s mission to advance the use of effective, sustainable fertility control methods to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts and promote coexistence.

Q: Who and/or what do you fund specifically?

The BIWFC funds grants depending upon the guidelines of each grant cycle. The cycle which recently closed addressed public policy, public education/stakeholder analysis, feasibility studies and cost, proof of concept studies, environmental impact mitigation and modelling systems.

Q: What is the future of wildlife fertility control?

Over the next five to 10 years, we believe advancements in technology will lead to development of additional wildlife fertility control agents, identification and delivery methods. Increased public demand for the use of humane, nonlethal methods for managing wildlife populations will lead to the term “wildlife fertility control” being a mainstream approach to resolving conflicts between humans and wildlife. As a result, policy makers and wildlife managers throughout the world could replace current methods such as trophy hunting of African elephants, culls of white-tailed deer and kangaroos, and roundups of wild horses and burros in urban and suburban communities.

Q: Is there anything else you wish to say about your organization, wildlife fertility control, or the documentary?

Because this field will only grow in importance, we need to be proactive in building a pipeline of practitioners who will take this field forward. This means we need to reach out to academic institutions about incorporating wildlife fertility control in veterinary and wildlife policy and management curricula.

In the meantime, this work is dependent upon collaboration in order to be effective. Therefore, we welcome everyone to join us in creating a better world for humans and wildlife.

We encourage anyone interested in learning more about this burgeoning field to visit our website where you can:

  • View the15-minute film, as well as our library of short videos;
  • Visit our repository of publications on wildlife fertility control;
  • View videos of previous webinars and in-person events;
  • Learn about the grants program;
  • View our fact sheets and FAQs, and learn more about the BIWFC .