Deer Birth Control Could Prevent Collisions

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“Sorry deer, not in the mood tonight, or this season, or for the next five years, in fact” said the doe on birth control.

A birth control injection for deer puts them completely out of the mood to mate for up to five years without a booster. GonaCon, as the birth control is called, even eliminates dangerous and destructive courtship behaviors responsible for the autumn increase in collisions between cars and deer.

The birth control shot is actually a vaccine that causes the deer to produce antibodies against a key hormone, Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which triggers production of sex hormones. GnRH kicks in when days get shorter and triggers many animals from northern latitudes to get feisty for the mating season.

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Other deer birth control vaccines prevent pregnancy, but they don't stop the animals from exhibiting mating behaviors, said David Goldade of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service/Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) in Fort Collins, Colo., where GonaCon was developed.

"That opens the door to dangerous situations in which males chase females across the highway. With GonaCon, however, vaccinated deer don't even try to mate," Goldade said in a press release.

Goldade recently reported on the new vaccine at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

The vaccine causes deer to produce antibodies that destroy the GnRH before it can ever trigger the sex hormones. USDA studies on white-tailed deer, free-ranging California ground squirrels, captive Norway rats, domestic and feral swine and wild horses have shown GonaCon to be effective in a wide range of animals.

The birth control vaccine could even be useful for pets and domesticated animals that have not been spayed or neutered. In cats, for example, scent-spraying, fighting, wandering, and caterwauling could be controlled.

The vaccine was designed to control the wild deer population, but there are a few drawbacks. Though it is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, it must also be registered with state agencies. So far, only Maryland and New Jersey have approved its use.

Also, the vaccine has to be injected into a captured and sedated deer by a USDA or state game and fish department staff member. Capturing, sedating, and vaccinating hundreds of thousands of deer would be time-consuming and expensive.

But the benefits of controlling deer populations may be worth it.

Encounters with deer can be deadly. In the approximately 1.5 million deer-auto collisions, an average 150 people die each year. Deer populations have exploded in the past few decades.

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A lack of natural predators and reduced hunting pressure has allowed deer to become common and expand into urban areas. At the same time, humans spread further out into rural areas that were once deer habitat. These two factors combine and result in damage to property when deer eat crops and landscaping plants.

Deer cause an estimated $1 billion in property damage per year.

IMAGE 1: A male white-tailed deer (Wikimedia Commons)

IMAGE 2: A white-tailed deer fawn (Wikimedia Commons)