By: Kathryn McMackin as published in the Cochrane Eagle
“The beauty of this particular contraceptive is that it doesn’t disrupt cycling or the horses’ behaviors, which is very important for the herd,”
As the debate continues surrounding the government-appointed wild horse cull in Alberta, one veterinarian has been researching a more sustainable solution to manage the free-ranging horse population: a safe method of contraception.
Dr. Judith Samson-French is no stranger to utilizing contraception as a management tool — she’s used it for years to control the feral dog population on First Nations communities. Through the Dogs With No Names project, she’s found success by administering a contraceptive implant in female dogs that renders them infertile.
A similar method can be used for wild horses, she said.
Jay Kirkpatrick is the director of the Science and Conservation Centre at ZooMontana in Billings, Mont. The centre develops and distributes wildlife contraceptives — including porcine zona pellucida (PZP).
Kirkpatrick said the PZP injection has been used, with much success, in horses for 27 years.
“The beauty of this particular contraceptive is that it doesn’t disrupt cycling or the horses’ behaviours, which is very important for the herd,” said Kirkpatrick. “It’s the only known contraceptive that does not interfere with the endocrine system.”
The PZP injection can be administered using disposable darts and an injection rifle. The inoculation does not harm the horses, although Kirkpatrick said the dart can take them by surprise.
The contraceptive is about 95 per cent effective, he added.
In addition to horses, PZP has been used to manage fertility in zoo animals, urban deer and Catalina Island’s bison population.
“We’re hardly trailblazing by using this method,” said Samson-French, who operates out of Banded Peak Veterinary Hospital.
But research must be completed before a contraceptive method can be implemented. Samson-French said she’s been looking at numbers and waiting on information from trappers.
“You need to know the fertility rates, the gender distribution and to zone in on the population that’s causing the problem,” she said.
“We need to know where we’re starting before we know where to end. How many wild horses is too many?”…(CONTINUED)