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October 13, 2014

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park Elephants Receive Contraceptive Vaccine

Humane Society International

  • Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is the largest park to have implemented an elephant contraception program yet. Peter Malsbury/iStockphoto

Elephants in South Africa’s oldest game reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, located in the KwaZulu Natal province on South Africa’s East coast, received their first contraceptive vaccine to control the population’s growth rate. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is the largest park to have implemented an elephant contraception program yet.

With the addition of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, immunocontraception now is being used to successfully control elephant populations in 20 parks and reserves, including Ithala Game Reserve, Tembe Elephant Park (commenced in 2007), and the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa.

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

In total, four populations will receive three years of treatment under an agreement between Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife (Ezemvelo), iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and Humane Society International (HSI). 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 work with Ezemvelo in helping control elephant populations in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. We’re delighted to see more and more elephant managers count on this technology to control elephant population growth in a proactive, effective and humane manner, and hope it becomes universally adopted.”

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.

The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park’s elephant management plan was signed off by South Africa’s National Minister: Department of Water and Environmental Affairs in December 2012. The plan includes a level of contraception application that is aimed at slowing the park’s elephant population growth rate while park expansion options are being explored, while various management actions to maintain or improve priority species or habitats are being implemented and while additional research is being undertaken.

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 number one preferable alternative as per the approved elephant management plan to control elephant populations in a human manner.

Read more about immunocontraception of elephants here.                                

Media Contacts:

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

Ezemvelo: Musa Mntambo, Musa.Mntambo@kznwildlife.com, +27 33.845.1743

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