Immunocontraceptives for Wildlife Population Management
- 08 Jul 2019
- 3 min read
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has launched a project for undertaking ‘immunocontraceptive measures’ for population management of wild animals.
- The project includes four species of wild animals, viz. Elephant, Wild boar, Monkeys and Blue Bull (Nilgai).
- Pilot project will begin in Uttarakhand and then implemented in rest of the country.
- The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the National Institute of Immunology (NII) will develop a protocol of immunocontraception.
- Immunocontraception is a birth control method that uses the body's immune response to prevent pregnancy. It is a technology that uses a female animal’s immune system to build a protein around the egg that prevents it from fertilising.
- It is a humane, nonlethal solution to conflicts between people and wildlife as well as a solution to local problems of animal overabundance.
- Immunocontraception can also help reduce the overproduction of captive animals in zoos and other facilities.
- It is also a novel approach to the development of family planning methods.
- Despite the availability of contraceptive methods, there are over one million elective abortions globally each year due to unintended pregnancies, having devastating impact on reproductive health of women worldwide.
- This highlights the need for the development of newer and improved contraceptive methods.
- Human-animal conflict has emerged as a major challenge in managing wildlife in the country.
- Human-elephant conflict causes the maximum number of casualties every year. According to reply tabled in Parliament on June 28, 2019, nearly 494 persons were killed by elephants in 2018.
- Between 2014 and March 2019, 2,398 people died in elephant attack in the country, with West Bengal accounting for maximum number of such deaths.
- It requires mathematical modelling and knowing the adult female population in the group that has to be delivered the vaccine.
- The implementation of such a project in India will not be a simple task. It will involve multidisciplinary effort over a long period of time to deliver the contraceptive and manage the logistics around it
- India has relatively large Elephant population, where identifying individuals is difficult.
- Use of hormonal contraceptives in wildlife are easily passed from animal to animal. This can lead to unintended ecological consequences.
- For instance, fish exposed to treated sewage effluents were found to have concentrations of the synthetic hormone in blood plasma higher than those found in humans taking hormonal contraceptives.
- However, the antigens used in contraceptive vaccines are protein, not steroids, they are not easily passed from animal to animal without loss of function. Yet, more research needs to be undertaken.