Tone positive about wild horse fertility control’s potential at international conference

/ Staff Blog

Photo taken at RTF’s San Luis Obispo, Calif., satellite sanctuary by Meg Frederick.

Return to Freedom took part in the ninth International Wildlife Fertility Conference last week in Colorado Springs, Colo., which frequently turned to the subject of wild horse management.

RTF was an event sponsor and RTF’s biologist and science program manager, Celeste Carlisle, served on the planning committee for the conference, which was hosted by the Botsiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis welcomed the crowd and spoke about better, more humane management of wild horses and burros, and, indeed, the feeling around fertility control as part of careful, thoughtful management of wild horses and burros is continuing to change.

Both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which manage wild horses and burros on our public lands, participated in the conference. The agencies have for decades focused almost entirely on removing wild horses and burros from the range to try to meet their population targets. There are some indications that may be changing, however.

BLM and USFS representatives in attendance, which included the BLM’s new Wild Horse and Burro Program chief, Holle Waddell, seemed more receptive and knowledgeable about fertility control and positive about its potential. Said Dave Jenkins, the BLM assistant director for resources and planning, “Gathers with fertility control are clearly more effective than gathers-only.”

Since 1999, RTF has used and advocated for immunocontraceptive vaccines as a way to slow the reproductive growth rates of populations, as have many other animal welfare organizations, researchers, and pragmatic land managers, but the understanding of meaningful, programmatic implementation of fertility control and the emphasis to shift course has been lacking.

Conferences are opportunities. At last week’s gathering, speakers delved into complex socio-economic issues; ethical considerations; new research; and better stakeholder involvement around wildlife fertility control. Colleagues exchanged challenges and ideas, and people connected to potential partners.

Among the others who spoke about wild horses and burros were Allen Rutberg of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, about the latest on the vaccine PZP-22, Brittany Middlebrooks of Colorado State University, about fertility control use in Caribbean donkeys, and Roch Hart of Wildlife Protection Management, about a remote delivery device (a feeding center that wild horses enter and receive injections without humans needing to be present).

Other speakers at the conference discussed fertility control use in species ranging from pigeons to hippos, elephants to wild boar.