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September 16, 2014

Ithala Game Reserve Elephants Receive Contraceptive Vaccine

Humane Society International

  • HSI

Elephants in Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife’s Ithala Game Reserve, located 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 Ithala’s population, immunocontraception now is being used to successfully control elephant populations in 19 parks and reserves, including Tembe Elephant Park, (commenced in 2007) and the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa. Another population in KwaZulu Natal—Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park—also will receive their first vaccination later this year. 

In total, four populations will receive three years of treatment under an agreement between Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife, iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and Humane Society International. Ezemvelo, HSI and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service are funding the program through the African Elephant Conservation Fund.

Audrey K. Delsink, HSI’s field director of the Elephant Contraception Program in South Africa, said: “We are very pleased to be working with Ezemvelo’s Ithala 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.”

The immunocontraception vaccine contains agents that, when injected into African elephant cows, causes an immune response that prevents eggs from being fertilized. The vaccine is delivered remotely by dart gun, making the technique minimally invasive and eliminating the need for anaesthetization. Immunocontraception is a non-hormonal form of contraception that is based on the scientific principles of immunization through vaccination.

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. The immunocontraceptive program allows elephant populations to be managed humanely, 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, have funded cutting edge research on the use of immunocontraception in African elephants since 1996. Use of immunocontraception is a preferable alternative to other, more expensive, difficult and inhumane population control 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.

Read more about immunocontraception of elephants here.

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