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J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 1999;2(4):321-35.

Preliminary evaluation of porcine zona pellucida (PZP) immunocontraception for behavioral effects in feral horses (Equus caballus).

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  • 1Department of Zoological Research, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC 20008, USA.


Successful management of captive populations of wild animals requires effective control of reproduction. Contraception is one tool for controlling reproduction of animals in zoos; however, the options available to the animal manager are limited. Contraceptives vary in efficacy, reversibility, and side effects, and thus may not be suitable for widespread use. One consideration when selecting a contraceptive is its potential for side effects on behavior, especially given the fact that reproduction plays such a prominent role in the biology of any species. To date, there have been few evaluations of contraceptives for behavioral effects, and those that have been conducted have focused on hormone-based contraceptives. This study sought to evaluate a novel method of population control, immunocontraception, for behavioral effects in a population of feral horses. Porcine zona pellucida (PZP) immunocontraception prevents fertilization of ova and does not alter normal hormone secretion patterns. It therefore should leave the animal behaviorally intact in terms of reproductive behavior. The study examined the behavior of 43 sexually mature mares on Assateague Island during the 1997 breeding season and, with help from Earthwatch volunteers, collected observations over a 3-month period. The study found no significant differences between treated and untreated mares in general activity budget, aggression given or received, and spatial relationships relative to the stallion. These preliminary findings indicate that PZP contraception seems to have no acute behavioral effects on the behavior of individuals. The study findings also suggest that PZP could be a desirable and effective management tool for captive species in which social behavior plays an integral role in group dynamics. Analyses of group level effects and population level effects are continuing.

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