Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bison, birth control, and the latest brucellosis solution

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 10:25 AM

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A new story in The Atlantic dives into the sticky issue of GonaCon, a contraceptive vaccine for wildlife. The USDA is considering using GonaCon on West Yellowstone bison in hopes that temporary sterilization can prevent the shedding of bacteria-riddled afterbirth and help block brucellosis transmission.

Originally developed by the USDA as a non-lethal form of pest control, GonaCon works by lowering the concentration of sex hormones in the bloodstream to weaken fertility and the urge to mate. The contraceptive was recently approved in Maryland and New Jersey for curbing the population of wild deer. Now researchers are hoping to use GonaCon to stop the spread of brucellosis, an infectious bacterial disease that causes pregnant ungulates to abort their calves.

Needless to say, the Buffalo Field Campaign isn't thrilled with the idea. They refer to the USDA study as "an experiment in population control" and wonder why wild bison remain the emphasis for brucellosis management.

Meanwhile, the USDA is conducting an environmental assessment to help determine whether the GonaCon study should move forward.

The assessment is scheduled to wrap up by early January, and the results will be made available for public comment. If approved, work could begin this spring—around the time a new generation of bison calves tests their wobbly legs.

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