Kolkata: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) has launched a project for undertaking ‘immunocontraceptive measures’ for population management of four species of wild animals — elephant, wild boar, monkey and blue bull (Nilgai).
“We have launched the project and the Finance Ministry has given approval for it. We are trying to utilise the best in the country, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and National the Institute of Immunology (NII), for developing a protocol of immunocontraception,” Soumitra Dasgupta, Inspector General of Forest, Wildlife, MOEFCC, told The Hindu. The pilot project will begin in Uttarakhand and then implemented in rest of the country, the official said.
“Only hitch for using (immunocontraception) on elephants is that there is a court injunction. The Ministry is trying to vacate the order,” said Mr. Dasgupta, who was in the city to participate in a conference on ‘Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation in India’.
Human-animal conflict has emerged as a major challenge in managing wildlife in the country and human-elephant conflict causes the maximum number of causalities every year. According to reply tabled in Parliament on June 28, 2019, nearly 494 persons were killed by elephants last year alone. Between 2014 and March 2019, 2,398 people died in elephant attack in the country, with West Bengal accounting for maximum number of such deaths.
Raman Sukumar, a well-known elephant expert and ecologist, said immunocontraception is a technology that uses a female animal’s immune system to build a protein around the egg that prevents it from fertilising.
Not a simple task
Professor Sukumar said the birth-control method has been tried in Africa in areas like the Kruger National Park but added that the implementation of such a project in India will not be a simple task. It will involve multi-disciplinary effort over a long period of time, he said.
“It depends on the goal, whether one wants to completely seize reproduction in a population or you want to delay reproduction so that the population growth rate comes down. So that instead of an elephant producing a calf every three or four years you want the elephant to produce a calf in seven or eight years. That requires mathematical modelling and knowing the adult female population in the group that has to be delivered the vaccine,” he said.
Professor Sukumar said after developing the technology, the test will be to deliver the contraceptive and the logistics around it. He added that in Africa the system has worked in private reserves with a relatively small elephant population, where every individual can be easily identified.