First-Ever International Workshop on Elephant Immunocontraception Held in South Africa

Hoping to expand use of a humane, non-lethal solution

Humane Society International

  • Team members Audrey Delsink and Henk Bertschinger. HSI

  • HSI’s Dr. Andrew Rowan (left) with the immunocontraception team. HSI

  • HSI’s Dr. Teresa Telecky working during the conference, with our posters on the wall above her. HSI

It is ironic that, while elephant populations in many African and Asian countries are increasingly threatened by poaching for the illegal ivory trade, those herds confined to parks and reserves continue to grow and, if unchecked, can exceed available food and space within these confined areas. In addition to environmental degradation, human-elephant conflict can result as the animals seek sustenance in nearby communities.

Currently, overwhelmed elephant population managers often react to such problems by resorting to undesirable methods such as capture and relocation, or even culling.

An innovative solution

Since 1996, HSI has been supporting research on an innovative technique to enable control of elephant population growth rates at the source, before overpopulation becomes an issue. Immunocontraception prevents elephant births, which helps avoid the risk of ill treatment later on. It is already being used in 14 elephant populations in South Africa, and now we are spreading the message that it works, in the hope that others will adopt it as a humane alternative to intrusive or lethal approaches.

Spreading the word

To this end, we presented our findings in July 2012 at the Fourth International Wildlife Management Congress in Durban, South Africa. During the conference, we held the first-ever international workshop on the use of elephant immunocontraception and set up a booth to display the outcomes of our work and distribute our new report. The workshop was presented by HSI’s elephant immunocontraception team, comprised of the world’s foremost experts on this topic. Our goals were to illustrate the use of immunocontraception, provide an understanding of the science behind it, explain its practical application, and describe how it is currently being utilized. Also included was an exercise that allowed participants to plan their own immunocontraception programs for a hypothetical population.

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The session was well-attended by professional wildlife managers from all over the world. They were excited to learn about how far we have come in the research and application of the technique, and there are now plans to expand its use to other populations in South Africa and even Asia. One participant wrote to us later, “Thank you for the wonderful workshop. It was easily one of the most useful I’ve attended in a long while.”

Immunocontraception is a safe, effective and practical way to control wildlife populations. We hope that more wildlife managers will take advantage of this new humane, non-lethal approach to regulating population growth and mitigating human-wildlife conflict. Give now to support our work.

Read the abstract for our workshop (#2) [PDF]