This article is a reprint from the Science and Conservation Center
At earlier times in history, wildlife populations were controlled exclusively by two broad natural processes, mortality control and fertility control. When animal populations exceed the carrying capacity of their environment, animals die from starvation and disease as well as predation. At the same time, high densities among wildlife populations lead to a decrease in reproductive success; animals delay the onset of reproduction at early ages, they produce fewer offspring, and juvenile mortality rates increase (see Kirkpatrick and Turner 1991c; Kirkpatrick et al. 1996c).
Urbanization and modern agricultural development led to the destruction of predators, and regulated hunting and trapping soon replaced the predators as population control devices. Dwindling wildlife resources and encroachment of habitat led to the creation of reserves, parks, and special legislation that protects certain species from traditional lethal controls. Examples might include wild horses protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, or elk living in a national park, where hunting is prohibited and large predators no longer exist. Or even zoological gardens, where unregulated reproduction can lead to “surplus” animals and massive ethical problems associated with the disposal of these excess animals (see Porton 2005).
People have chosen to impose artificial human-induced mortality control on wild populations, through regulated hunting, trapping, and poisoning, and this is accepted as “normal” human activity. In many areas of the continent, and with many species, traditional human-induced mortality control will continue to be the primary management tool. In recent history, however, increasing urbanization, the withdrawal of public lands from the public hunting domain, regulatory prohibitions on the use of poisons, legislation against trapping, low fur prices and, most important, changing public values about lethal wildlife control methods have reduced the effectiveness of human-induced mortality control as a wildlife management tool. Thus, we now face exploding populations of some adaptable or highly protected species but without adequate management tools with which to save environment and animals alike.
The use of human-imposed fertility control, however, is still viewed as “bizarre” or “unnatural”, and the reasons are not understood. It may have something to do with the simplicity, or the lower cost of mortality control. Regardless of the answer to this question, we are rapidly facing a point in time when a safe, humane and publicly-acceptable wildlife management paradigm should begin to replace lethal methods. The public demands it and the animals we have displaced deserve it.
Go on to: Brief History of Fertility Control Before Immunocontraception
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