There is one animal that drivers fear more than any other: the deer. More than 1.5 million deer find their ways in front of cars within the United States causing over 1 billion dollars in property damage! The deer population has increased drastically since the first half of the twentieth century, when their numbers were a meager 500,000. Now with an overwhelming number of deer in the country, they are considered a nuisance in many suburban areas and a hazard to each other. Large populations of other species-many of them invasive-like grey squirrels, pigeons, Canadian geese and feral pets also have a negative effect on their environments.
Fortunately, there may soon be a way to humanely reduce pest animal populations in areas when hunting isn’t a feasible or appealing option. Though many people scoff at the idea, a birth control is the answer. It may seem unfair to manipulate the breeding behavior of various species when we have already affected everything else in their environment, but it is a more appealing choice than killing off the animals-especially when it comes to non-prey animals. It is also ironic that some of the species in question-like white-tailed deer and Canadian geese-were encouraged to reproduce when they faced extinction earlier in the century, but now their increasing numbers have made them a nuisance. Not only that, but with a huge population, animals are more susceptible to disease and starvation when food is harder to come by.
Gonacon is an effective sterilization technique intended to be used on a variety of pest species such as deer, horses, squirrels and feral hogs, cats and dogs. One dose of Gonacon ranges from $2-10, but trapping or darting a deer to administer the injection can cost upwards of $500-$1000. Researchers are trying to find alternative methods for administering the drug, though. Once injected, the animal in question is sterile for 2-4 years and this puts a dent in the population. Gonacon is not currently available, but The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing applications to market the drug.
Pest species come in a variety of forms and can cause a surprising amount of damage to public areas. The Clemson Campus in South Carolina, for example, is eager to find a way to humanely deal with their squirrel population: Gray squirrels may be cute, but their habit of gnawing away at tree bark can destroy countless mature trees. In a research paper discussing the damage caused by the squirrels, researchers found that “the loss of one mature tree from gray squirrels on Clemson’s campus to be $13,275.00. Using these estimates, damage caused by gray squirrels on Clemson’s campus may exceed $1.3 million dollars.” For more information regarding the research paper click HERE.
Naturally, there are concerns dealing with the gonacon, like whether remnants of the drug will make their way into the environment. The Gonacon Q and A sheet explains that this is not an issue: “The vaccine consists of proteins; therefore, a secondary consumer could not be contracepted as proteins are broken down in the stomach.” Another frustration is that a deer can still get run over by a car, or succumb to disease after the government has already spent hundreds of dollars trapping the animal for treatment. Unfortunately, this is a variable that we don’t have any control over.
Diazacon is another contraceptive that is administered orally. It is mainly used on bird species that are easily fed. Diazacon needs to be ingested daily for maximum effectiveness, but this isn’t a problem since birds are eager to return to an easy meal fairly quickly. (They gobble up the treated feed quickly and don’t leave anything for native wild birds to accidentally peck at either.) Feeding geese and monk parakeets is definitely a less stressful way to control their populations than it is to force them into nets and relocate the birds. It probably would not have a drastic effect on their behavior either, since much of their food is already provided by people who happily feed the birds. Diazacon is currently available for controlling certain avian populations and using the product is as easy as feeding the eager birds every day.
Canadian geese are one of the target species. Thanks to the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the introduction of flocks to various areas in the 60′s, the once almost extinct Canadian Goose population has exploded into giant flocks that no longer feel the need to migrate from the public parks that they call home. Canadian geese are now a formidable challenge on golf courses. They also damage crops and lawns, and the feces they leave behind makes areas less appealing and degrades the water quality of nearby ponds or lakes.
Another bird that could benefit from diazacon is the monk parakeet mentioned previously. These birds are intelligent, beautiful and long lived (up to 35 years) and they have made their home in various U.S cities after escaping captivity (and being released by well meaning owners) years ago. They are a gregarious species that work together to weave giant nests around trees, and on numerous occasions, around electrical towers. This interferes with communications and utility companies have exterminated the birds via trapping and gassing in the past.
Using either diazacon or gonacon on pest populations could help reduce pest animal numbers without having to resort to traumatic population control techniques in our own backyards.