The revolutionary immunocontraceptive vaccine that could put an end to hunting in Spain

Mar 26, 2022 | Post, Current affairs, Featured, Revista Lloseta, Thursday Daily Bulletin, Tradition

The eternal excuse that hunters and administrations use to be able to continue killing animals and authorising it, respectively, is that hunting is necessary to control supposed overpopulations of certain animals. The PACMA association has been showing for years the reality of hunting, the existence of game farms and the absence of reliable studies to prove these supposed overpopulations. Now, moreover, a product that has been in the test phase for years has yielded very positive results that could call into question the theoretical usefulness of hunting that is constantly being put forward.

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A pilot project led by researcher Manel López-Bejar of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) has determined that the anti-GnRH vaccine, commercially known as Gonacon and originally developed by the National Wildlife Research Center in the United States, is effective in controlling fertility in wild boar. It has also been shown to be valid in animals such as goats, elephants, wild cattle, horses, squirrels and deer in tests carried out in other countries.

The tests in Spain have been carried out on a total of 219 animals from a population living in urban and interurban areas in Terrassa, Matadepera, Vacarisses and Sant Cugat del Vallès.

The procedure is simple: capture, sedation, identification, vaccination and release. In a period of three effective years (which have been extended due to the pandemic) the researchers have been able to recapture 29.2% of the treated animals, determining that, by the size of the genitals and mammary glands, the immunocontraception had taken effect in all the treated females in a period of 4 months to 3 years depending on the time of recapture, and in up to twelve males treated in a period of 2 months to 2 years.

According to Manel López-Bejar, the vaccine is more effective in females due to the stability of their reproductive cycles, and the studies suggest that its potential increases as the age of the treated animal decreases, and it remains to be determined in a second cycle that will begin in 2022 whether permanent sterility can be achieved by applying the treatment at prepubertal age (between 3 and 6 months of age).

No-kill population controls
Lawyers Eva Ramos and Yolanda Morales had the opportunity to exchange views in an interview with the leader of this project that could revolutionise ethical methods of population control and put an end to hunting as we know it.

“This is long overdue news; wild boars are being massacred by hunters and administrations who blame them for following their instincts. They are a beleaguered species that we have left without habitat and are forced to fend for themselves as best they can. They enter urban areas at certain times of the year because they have nothing to eat or drink; everything is urbanised, privatised and fenced off,” says our advisor.

López-Béjar assures that the methods of population control with hunting and slaughter of the animals have proven to be ineffective: “the results are there: every year, wild boars are authorised and hundreds or thousands of them are killed in a few months, and the following year we are the same or almost the same”, she explains. “Wild boars are a very plastic species and adaptable to the environment; reproductive cycles are accelerated according to the need for repopulation, which tells us that killing them and generating this vacuum effect causes a rebound effect,” he adds.

But this project has not been easy to develop. Not all the administrations have lent their support to the researchers, who say that while the Diputació de Barcelona has been the main promoter of the process, the Generalitat de Catalunya, strongly questioned for its alleged participation in the experiment that would cause the death of 32 beagles in the Vivotecnia laboratory, has confirmed that it has no interest in participating in it.

“The hunting lobby is powerful, although not numerous. In Spain, according to data from 2021, there are less than one million licences, and they are falling every year because it is not an activity that has a significant generational replacement; hunters are dying of age and hunting is dying with them,” explains our spokesperson.

This vaccine can only be purchased and applied by administrations that have direct responsibility for environmental management in their community, so it will not yet be marketable on a small scale. According to López-Béjar, “its application involves a protocol that must be managed by a professional”. Each vaccine costs approximately €40 and, depending on the age at which the animal is treated, the need for revaccination and the periodicity of this would have to be assessed.

However, the difficult living conditions of wild boars in urban and interurban environments significantly reduce their life expectancy, so that the interruption of the first reproductive period (i.e. with the first vaccination) would be an important brake on their multiplication.

The researcher affirms that the vaccine has a relaxing effect on the aggressive attitude of the wild boar in heat, also reducing its radius of mobility.

“The cost of the project in the medium and long term is potentially more interesting for the administrations, as it ensures results and proposes spending less each time. However, as it is done now, it would be necessary to calculate how much each administration spends and with what frequency to carry out controls with hunters, who have to be called the following year to do the same work, the collection of carcasses and their management, the repair of damage in urban areas…”, explains López-Béjar.

This procedure would only require the price of the vaccine and the manpower for its application, a project coordinator and an operator for the installation and control of the traps.

What is needed to implement immunocontraceptive vaccination?
The answer from the project’s lead researcher is clear: administrative will and cooperation. The administrations have to collaborate actively so that the development of the project is optimal and, in a few years, we have the populations of “huntable” animals under control.

“When a natural park in which we want to intervene with the vaccine borders on several municipalities, it is useless to have the collaboration of just one; it must be a team effort,” explains López-Béjar.

. The solution is never and must never be the death of animals, and the possibilities offered by this vaccine for the animals are extremely important.