Aspiring marksmen will soon be able to stalk, chase and shoot big game in the wild — all for conservation. As a desperate population control measure, Rajasthan has decided to “develop a sport” to sterilise nilgais using contraceptive darts. The state now plans to welcome enthusiasts to try their hand.
As reported by The Indian Express on December 20, 2014, the Vasundhara Raje government has been wary of culling nilgais to prevent destruction of crops. Instead, it has chosen to inject the animals with immuno-contraceptive vaccines using non-lethal darts. A pilot project will be launched soon and legal clearance for public participation will be sought thereafter.
The “sport” will require marksmen to sneak up on nilgais, aim for the rump and shoot a marker dart. Every bull’s eye will inject the vaccine and leave a splotch of colour on the coat, marking the animal as sterilised. It will be a long shot to cover the state’s 55,000-strong nilgai population.
“These are shy animals that scoot at the sight of people from as far as 50 metres. So it will be difficult to get them within range and aim accurately. Given the number of nilgais, a decision was taken in the last state wildlife board meeting (on October 17) to involve the public and promote it as a sport,” said a senior forest official present at the meeting.
The state is considering two options — GonaCon or Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) — for the immuno-contraceptive. GonaCon stimulates production of antibodies that bind to gonadotropin and reduce the release of sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone). PZP, on the other hand, produces antibodies that attach to the sperm receptors on eggs in the female, blocking fertilisation.
While PZP has to be injected every year, GonaCon is a multi-year vaccine and has been used on white-tailed deer, California ground squirrels, prairie dogs, wild horses and elk. Rajasthan is in talks with the US Department of Agriculture to make the vaccine available. GonaCon works on both sexes but only females are darted to check the population more effectively.
As for managing the existing population, the government seems to have thrown in the towel. “If this drive works, we’ll count on natural mortality to bring the numbers down,” said an official in the forest department headquarters in Jaipur.