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Biodiversity & Environment

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

  • 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.

Need

  • 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.

Challenges

  • 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.
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