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March 4, 2014

iSimangaliso Wetland Park Elephants Receive Contraceptive Vaccine

Humane Society International, Ezemvelo, iSimangaliso Wetland Park

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Elephants in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, located in KwaZulu Natal province on South Africa’s East coast, were treated for the first time with a contraceptive vaccine to control the population’s growth rate.

With the addition of iSimangaliso’s population, immunocontraception is now being used to successfully control elephant populations in 15 parks and reserves, including Tembe Elephant Park (commenced in 2007) in South Africa. Two other populations in KwaZulu Natal—Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and Ithala—will also receive their first vaccination later this year.

Immunocontraception is a non-hormonal form of contraception that is based on the scientific principles of immunization through vaccination.

All three populations will receive three years of treatment under an agreement between Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo) and Humane Society International (HSI), with funding from Ezemvelo, HSI and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the African Elephant Conservation Fund.

Although elephant poaching and trafficking in ivory severely threatens the survival of African elephants in several African states, in South Africa poaching remains fairly low. As a result, the country needs to manage elephant populations, especially in small enclosed parks and private conservancies, to slow their growth rates so as to prevent loss of biodiversity, to maintain ecosystem function and resilience, to reduce harm to human lives or livelihoods, and to avoid compromising key management objectives.

Research conducted over the past 18 years has resulted in a robust body of scientific work demonstrating that immunocontraception is a safe and effective way to control elephant population growth that has no effect on behavior. It is also reversible, allowing managers to fine-tune population growth.

HSI and its affiliate, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have funded cutting edge research on the use of immunocontraception in African elephants since 1996. The immunocontraception vaccine contains agents that, when injected into African elephant cows, causes an immune response that prevents eggs from being fertilized by sperm. The vaccine is delivered remotely by dart gun, making the technique minimally invasive and eliminating the need for anaesthetization. Use of immunocontraception is a preferable alternative to other less desirable, more expensive and difficult population reduction methods such as culling or capture and translocation which, ultimately, do not solve the problem because populations reactively increase as remaining elephants continue to reproduce.

Audrey K. Delsink, HSI’s field director for the Elephant Contraception Program in South Africa, said: “We are very pleased to be working with Ezemvelo and iSimangaliso on this project. We hope that more elephant managers will fully embrace and use this technology to control elephant population growth in a proactive, effective and humane manner.”

Andrew Zaloumis, CEO of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, said “Elephants were reintroduced into iSimangaliso in 2003 after a one-hundred year absence. President Mandela described this as ‘almost spiritual, a form of restitution ... an attempt to recreate the wholeness of nature so that we can live in harmony with its creator’s magnificence … so that the descendants of the elders of Maputaland, the generations of the future, too can experience this grandeur.’iSimangaliso today represents one of the world’s leading examples of the modern era of conservation and we are pleased to implement the latest technology in elephant population control within our park to effectively manage the numbers without negative consequences.”

Read more about immunocontraception of elephants here

Media Contacts:

HSI: Raul Arce-Contreras, rcontreras@humanesociety.org, +1 301.721.6440

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