The giants of the bush, elephants are one of Africa’s most iconic and magnificent wild animals. However, when confined in a defined nature reserve, they are also capable of causing major environmental changes should their numbers increase too dramatically. With contained populations, low mortality rates and high growth rates, most game reserves are faced with the challenge of ensuring that elephant numbers do not exceed carrying capacity. At &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve the growth of the elephant population is being managed through a non-invasive method of contraception called immunocontraception.
The contraceptive vaccine, which is not based on steroids and therefore runs no risk of altering the animals’ behaviour, is administered to female elephants three times in the initial year of use, followed by an annual booster shot. The vaccine is remotely delivered through the use of darts shot from vehicles or helicopters, which means that there is no need to handle or sedate the animals, thus eliminating stress to the beasts and reducing the cost of treatment. Extensive research has shown no long-term effect on the elephants’ health or their social behaviour. The contraceptive effects of the vaccine can also be easily reversed by omitting the annual booster shot, with female elephants then regaining their fertility. Moreover, the vaccine is safe for other wildlife and does not contaminate the environment or the drinking water in any way.
At &Beyond Phinda the vaccine is used in conjunction with a stringent elephant management plan. Female elephant are vaccinated only after having had one calf and the object of the programme is not to decrease elephant numbers but to slow their growth to an appropriate level.