Utah considers contraception for wildlife
Will birth control become the primary form of population control for wild animals?
Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - 17:37
BIRTH CONTROL FOR BAMBI: Authorities consider contraception as a way to control the large number of deer in Salt Lake City neighborhoods. (Photo: pinguino/Flickr)
Two years ago, the Utah Legislature passed Senate Bill #13, "Administering Substances to Wildlife." The bill prohibits people from intentionally administering substances that would pacify, sedate, immobilize, harm, kill or control the fertility of any wildlife except under "certain circumstances." Apparently, recent increases in wildlife sightings in Salt Lake City may have created the appropriate circumstances to which this bill alludes.
The Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is considering the use of birth control on wildlife to limit the number of animals in areas where hunting is not allowed, such as residential neighborhoods. More specifically, contraception may be used for deer in areas along Salt Lake City's Wasatch Front, where heavy urbanization has planted homes on historic winter range, causing serious tension between the animal natives and the human invaders.
Federal officials in Utah have been using a liquid contraceptive called PZP (porcine zona pellucida) to control herds of wild horses in the state for several years. This practice is justified by the fact that wild horses cannot be hunted and thus contraception is the only way to control their population. Through birth control, the Bureau of Land Management can maintain a population that is appropriate for available rangelands. PZP, which is still considered an experimental drug, is extracted from the ovaries of pigs and when it is injected into other animals it produces antibodies that prevent fertilization. Apparently, it has been used on wildlife since the 1980s.
Deer grazing along the Wasatch Front may become PZP's newest test subjects. Deer can be expensive: they break fences, eat gardens and collide with vehicles. This may create problems, but is the logical next step to inject the animals with contraceptive so they cannot reproduce? The Salt Lake neighborhoods that lie along the Wasatch mountain range boarder legitimate wilderness. In my opinion, if you don't want deer in your backyard, you shouldn't move to a neighborhood located in a wilderness area.
I have to admit that at first, I thought maybe birth control wasn't such a horrible idea. It may be worse to have overpopulation of the animals struggling with starvation and diseases. Then I started to think, if you randomly administer birth control to animals, what happens to survival of the fittest? Who decides which animals reproduce in the wild? And how do they know it's the right choice?
As humans we have traditionally over-involved ourselves in altering ecology, but the idea of injecting a wild animal with birth control seems to be beyond interference. Furthermore, why is anyone surprised or upset to find deer in their neighborhoods when their homes have encroached on the animal's traditional range? Now I find myself thinking: let Mother Mature handle the deer population, and let us spend more energy keeping areas ecologically diverse and preventing encroachment by housing developments.
I find it very hard to not get frustrated by the bigger reality of what is happening here. As our human population grows and suburban sprawl causes housing to spring up closer and closer to our wilderness areas, there is less habitat available for wildlife and it becomes necessary to start toying with their populations. Is wildlife overpopulation the problem, or is human overpopulation the problem? Animals that are doing nothing more than intuitively returning to their range land are being viewed as a nuisance rather than beautiful assets to our natural world.
It should be noted that the contraceptive idea is still very controversial and no decisions have been made concerning its use on deer. Regardless, I don't see how injecting a wild animal with reproductive parts of another animal could ever be considered a humane remedy to the situation. Personally, I believe that if you want to live in the wilderness, you better learn to live with the wildlife. What do you think?