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Sep 2, 2015 9:46 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Preservationist Pitches Immunocontraceptive To Control Deer

Wendy Chamberlin practices how to administer PZP in deer while attending a course on the immunocontraception in Montana earlier this summer. Photo courtesy Wendy Chamberlin.
Sep 2, 2015 10:48 AM

There have been numerous efforts to curb the high population of deer on the South Fork: sterilization and spaying, extended hunting seasons, culling, and extensive management plans, to name a few.

One local preservationist, however, is bringing yet another suggestion to the table: using an immunocontraceptive known as porcine zona pellucida, or PZP, a vaccine derived from pig eggs that works by essentially blocking fertilization after being administered by dart into a female deer.

Wendy Chamberlin, a founder of the Longview Wildlife Partnership and president of the Wildlife Preservation Coalition of Eastern Long Island, learned about PZP after attending a seminar on the immunocontraceptive in June that was instructed by Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, a senior scientist at the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana. Impressed by her new knowledge, Ms. Chamberlin said she believes PZP could be a solution to combating the deer population on the South Fork, and she is ready to pitch it soon to other preservationists, environmental groups and government officials.

“It’s very neat, very safe. It doesn’t affect her hormonally, it doesn’t affect her behaviorally,” Ms. Chamberlin said of the does. “We’re not risking life here. We’re not just killing these highly intelligent, emotional creatures.”

Ms. Chamberlin said there are many benefits to using PZP. One, it has been effective in managing wild horse populations in the West for more than 20 years. She also said that even though one shot generally lasts up to two years, booster shots can be given about a year in to prolong effectiveness. PZP also does not travel through the food chain, as it is made from proteins, so deer metabolize it as they do other proteins.

And the more a deer is given PZP, the longer the shots will last, she explained.

But others who are involved in deer management are deeply skeptical of Ms. Chamberlin’s proposal. Many have said that an immunocontraceptive like PZP would not be effective on the South Fork, because the amount of land involved, coupled with the number of deer, would make it too difficult to target every female animal. Additionally, several studies on PZP, including on Fire Island, have not shown that the method is effective enough to invest time and money in, they said.

“If it were me doing the project, I wouldn’t waste my time. There are too many deer. And the deer are smart,” said Paul Curtis, a Cornell Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. “For several years now, it really hasn’t supported its use.”

Mr. Curtis, who has studied PZP in conjunction with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, said that because it requires boosters, the shots alone are a huge investment—each vaccine costs about $36. He also said that immunocontraceptives take a long time to work, and that in studies where they were more successful, such as on St. Phillips Island in South Carolina, they reduced the deer population by only about 30 percent over the course of five years. “That’s nowhere near the goals of where you have to be,” he said.

Part of the problem with administering PZP to deer in this region, many have said, is that it is more beneficial to use with closed populations, such as a zoo or a fenced-in wildlife preserve, because the exact size of the population is known. That was the case on Fire Island, where PZP was used in research for about 10 years from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

“We found that it could be effective in areas where you basically knew the size of your population and you knew all the animals. But in an open range, on the other parts of the island … it was not as effective,” said Chris Soller, superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore. “If you don’t have control of the herd, it’s not necessarily effective.”

Mike Scheibel, chairperson of the Shelter Island Deer and Tick Committee, also pointed out that PZP is currently authorized only for research in the state, so any municipality that would want to use it would have to either wait for the state to approve it, or get a series of permits from the DEC.

At the more local level, some preservationists are split about whether they would support the use of PZP. In Remsenburg, Christian Killoran, vice president of the group Hunters for Deer, said he does not support the use of the immunocontraceptive. Dell Cullum, president of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, said he would not rule it out just yet, because practically anything would be better than the sterilization program recently completed in East Hampton Village.

“We want a better way to do it. And if PZP is not as invasive as the sterilization process was, I’d be more interested,” Mr. Cullum said.

He added, however, that after crossing paths with Ms. Chamberlin about issues that are wildlife-related, he is disinclined to trust what she proposes: “I wouldn’t take anything that she says seriously. Plain and simple.”

Southampton Town officials have considered looking into using immunocontraceptives, though, as they included them in a comprehensive deer management plan proposal in December, where they would be employed in addition to coordinated culls.

Ms. Chamberlin stressed that because PZP has the fewest side effects and is easy to administer, it should at least be considered as a viable method for controlling the deer population.

“My goal is to find a leading-edge solution that is non-lethal. The human population is expanding and developing at such a rate that we’re just trapping deer,” she said. “If we could figure out a really good, smart, forward-thinking solution, that’s going to work in all different places, all different communities. … We have to just start thinking in different ways. In new ways.”

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PZP changes the behavior of the deer in reproductive season. The PZP vaccine induced infertility in does is associated with increased sexual activity for an extended period (up to 150 days, usually only lasts 44 days), as evidenced by an average increase in the number of estrous cycles (up to 7x) observed per doe. If the PZP antibody titer drops to an unprotecting level late in the breeding season, conception may occur resulting in fawns born in August or September, which places them at considerable ...more
By Michael Tessitore (76), East Quogue, New York on Sep 6, 15 8:25 PM
1 member liked this comment
michael,why is pzp not permitted by the DEC ? and why such a discrepancy in your cost estimate and those of ms. chamberlin ?

By wmdwjr (76), east hampton on Sep 6, 15 11:20 PM
"At Fripp Island, SC, the cost of initial capture and treatment of deer with 2-year vaccine was approximately $500/deer.” - FACT SHEET: PZP IMMUNOCONTRACEPTION for DEER Dr. Allen Rutberg, Center for Animals and Public Policy

"For administration of the vaccine, the deer must be captured, immobilized and then injected by hand. All vaccinated deer must also be tagged. Initially, this costs about $500 per deer, but costs increase to about $2000-3000 per deer as a higher percentage of ...more
By Michael Tessitore (76), East Quogue, New York on Sep 6, 15 11:48 PM
thanks for your time and knowledge.
By wmdwjr (76), east hampton on Sep 7, 15 12:52 AM
Knowledge of what? Google
By Walter Sobchak (22), Water Mill on Sep 8, 15 8:32 PM
Oh just stop screwing around and shoot the damn things already. Stop wasting time, stop wasting money and do what you need to do. Leave it to dumb people to make the simple things hard.
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Sep 7, 15 7:36 AM
Yet another waste. Just allow safe and legal hunting. People fed; no cost; problem solved.
By Sleeping Giant (20), Southampton on Sep 7, 15 8:10 AM
to Michael Tessitore:

Your post is a narrative, unreferenced to authority, which posits statistically unsupported speculative conclusions It is contradicted by the following referenced study showing PZP to reduce fawning by 89%:

"A 6-year study was conducted to determine the long-term effects of porcine zona pellucida (PZP) vaccine on the immune and hormonal responses, and reproduction of the white-tailed deer. The first 2 years of active immunization resulted in an 89% reduction ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Sep 7, 15 8:25 AM
Unless you are planning on conducting deer drives on a massive scale, it will not be possible to catch enough deer to make it work.
By InnerBay (72), Southampton on Sep 7, 15 6:18 PM
While it's a waste of money PZP can be adminestered by remote dart.Capture and injection is not necessary.
And it's not a new concept.Although it was wild horses and not Deer the drug was adminestered to wild horses on Assateague Island in Maryland in about 1990.
By Walter Sobchak (22), Water Mill on Sep 8, 15 8:38 PM
if you are going to spend money
pay suffolk residents $25 for a fresh doe / $50 for a fresh doe dressed

or we can play god with drugs and have still born fetus' plopping out and deer with plastic tags in there ears walking around like in eh
By llimretaw (118), watermill on Sep 8, 15 3:30 PM
Does anyone for a moment think that those who kill deer for personal amusement or gain (eg Michael Tessitore/Hunters for Deer), have any serious interest in non-lethal solutions for saving the lives of innocent animals who do no harm to anyone?

HUNTERS FOR DEER do just that....hunt for deer... and the more the merrier. So many more opportunities to show how macho and great they are!
They get a thrill from the kill and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. So thank you Preliator Lives ...more
By animalover (2), East Hampton on Sep 11, 15 6:40 PM