Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Population-level effects of immunocontraception in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Allen T. Rutberg A C and Ricky E. Naugle B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Environmental and Population Health, Tufts–Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, 200 Westboro Road, North Grafton, MA 01536, USA.

B The Humane Society of the United States, 700 Professional Drive, Gaithersburg, MD 20879, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email: allen.rutberg@tufts.edu

Wildlife Research 35(6) 494-501 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR07128
Submitted: 4 September 2007  Accepted: 6 June 2008   Published: 22 October 2008


In North America, dense populations of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in suburbs, cities and towns have stimulated a search for new population-management tools. Most research on deer contraception has focused on the safety and efficacy of immunocontraceptive vaccines, but few studies have examined population-level effects. We report here results from two long-term studies of population effects of the porcine zona pellucida (PZP) immunocontraceptive vaccine, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, and at Fire Island National Seashore (FIIS), New York, USA. Annual population change at NIST was strongly correlated with population fertility (rP = 0.82, P = 0.001); when population fertility at NIST dropped below 0.40 fawns per female, the population declined. Contraceptive treatments at NIST were associated with a 27% decline in population between 1997 and 2002, and fluctuated thereafter with the effectiveness of contraceptive treatments. In the most intensively treated segment of FIIS, deer population density declined by ~58% between 1997 and 2006. These studies demonstrate that, in principle, contraception can significantly reduce population size. Its usefulness as a management tool will depend on vaccine effectiveness, accessibility of deer for treatment, and site-specific birth, death, immigration, and emigration rates.


We are indebted to our many supporters and collaborators at NIST, especially Rhonda Hurt and John Kennedy. Lowell Adams and his students at the University of Maryland also played key roles in the project, as did Pat McElroy at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Mary Foley of the National Park Service (NPS) and the FIIS staff consistently supported and contributed to the work there. Brian Underwood of the Biological Resources Division of the US Geological Survey, his students, and NPS staff collected and analysed the FIIS population data. And of course we thank our long-time collaborators, Jay Kirkpatrick, John Turner, and Irwin Liu, who helped set up and advise us on both studies. Funding and logistic support was provided by HSUS, NIST, the NPS, and the residents of Fire Island, all of whom have earned our deep gratitude.


Barbour, A. G. , and Fish, D. (1993). The biological and social phenomenon of Lyme disease. Science 260, 1610–1616.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Brown, T. L. , Decker, D. J. , Riley, S. J. , Enck, J. W. , Lauber, T. B. , Curtis, P. D. , and Mattfeld, G. (2000). The future of hunting as a mechanism to control white-tailed deer populations. Wildlife Society Bulletin 28, 797–807.

Buckland S. T. , Anderson D. R. , Burnham K. P. , and Laake J. L. (1993). ‘Distance Sampling: Estimating Abundance of Biological Populations.’ (Chapman and Hall: London.)

Burnham, K. P. , Anderson, D. R. , and Laake, J. L. (1980). Estimation of density from line transect sampling of biological populations. Wildlife Monographs 72, 1–202.

Conover, M. R. , Pitt, W. C. , Kessler, K. K. , DuBow, T. J. , and Sanborn, W. A. (1995). Review of human injuries, illnesses, and economic losses caused by wildlife in the United States. Wildlife Society Bulletin 23, 407–414.

Curtis, P. D. , and Hauber, J. R. (1997). Public involvement in deer management decisions: consensus versus consent. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25, 399–403.

Curtis, P. D. , Pooler, R. L. , Richmond, M. E. , Miller, L. A. , Mattfield, G. F. , and Quimby, F. W. (2002). Comparative effects of GnRH and porcine zona pellucida (PZP) immunocontraceptive vaccines for controlling reproduction in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Reproduction Supplement 60, 131–141.

Davis D. E. , and Winstead R. L. (1980). Estimating the numbers of wildlife populations. In ‘Wildlife Management Techniques Manual’. (Ed. S. D. Schemnitz.) pp. 221–245. (The Wildlife Society: Bethesda, MD.)

DeNicola, A. J. , and Williams, S. C. (2008). Sharpshooting suburban white-tailed deer reduces deer–vehicle collisions. Human–Wildlife Conflicts 2, 28–33.

DeNicola A. J., VerCauteren K. C. , Curtis P. D. , and Hyngstrom S. E. (2002). Managing white-tailed deer in suburban environments. A technical guide. Cornell Cooperative Extension, Ithaca, NY.

Fagerstone K. A. , Coffey M. A. , Curtis P. D. , Dolbeer R. A. , Killian G. J. , Miller L. A. , and Wilmot L. M. (2002). Wildlife Fertility Control. Wildlife Society Technical Review 02–2. Wildlife Society, Bethesda, MD.

Fraker, M. A. , Brown, R. G. , Gaunt, G. E. , Kerr, J. A. , and Pohajdak, B. (2002). Long-lasting, single dose immunocontraception of fallow deer in British Columbia. Journal of Wildlife Management 66, 1141–1147.
CrossRef |

Gilbert F. F. , and Dodds D. G. (1992). ‘The Philosophy and Practice of Wildlife Management.’ (Krieger: Malabar.)

Hansen, L. , and Beringer, J. (1997). Managed hunts to control white-tailed deer populations on urban public areas in Missouri. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25, 484–487.

Hernandez, S. , Locke, S. L. , Cook, M. W. , Harveson, L. A. , Davis, D. S. , Lopez, R. R. , Silvy, N. J. , and Fraker, M. A. (2006). Effects of SpayVac® on urban female white-tailed deer movements. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34, 1430–1434.
CrossRef |

Killian, G. , Miller, L. , Rhyan, J. , and Doten, H. (2006). Immunocontraception of Florida feral swine with a single-dose GnRH vaccine. American Journal of Reproductive Immunology 55, 378–384.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Kilpatrick, H. J. , LaBonte, A. M. , and Seymour, J. T. (2002). A shotgun–archery deer hunt in a residential community: evaluation of hunt strategies and effectiveness. Wildlife Society Bulletin 30, 478–486.

Kirkpatrick J. F. (2005). The elusive promise of wildlife fertility control: a personal perspective. In ‘Humane Wildlife Solutions: the Role of Immunocontraception’. (Ed. A. T. Rutberg.) pp. 63–75. (Humane Society Press: Washington, DC.)

Kirkpatrick J. F. , and Rutberg A. T. (2001). Fertility control in wildlife. In ‘The State of the Animals 2001’. (Eds D. J. Salem and A. N. Rowan.) pp. 183–198. (Humane Society Press: Washington, DC.)

Kirkpatrick, J. F. , and Turner, A. (2007). Immunocontraception and increased longevity in equids. Zoo Biology 26, 237–244.
CrossRef |

Kirkpatrick, J. F. , Liu, I. K. M. , and Turner, J. W. (1990). Remotely-delivered immunocontraception in feral horses. Wildlife Society Bulletin 18, 326–330.

Kirkpatrick, J. F. , Turner, J. W. , Liu, I. K. M. , Fayrer-Hosken, R. , and Rutberg, A. T. (1997). Case studies in wildlife immunocontraception: wild and feral equids and white-tailed deer. Reproduction, Fertility and Development 9, 105–110.
CrossRef | CAS |

Kohrn B. (Ed.) (1998). The increasing conflicts of deer and human populations in suburban areas. Buffalo Environmental Law Journal 5, 354–492.

Lauber, T. B. , and Knuth, B. A. (2000). Suburban residents’ criteria for evaluating contraception and other deer management techniques. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 5, 1–17.

Liu, I. K. M. , Bernoco, M. , and Feldman, M. (1989). Contraception in mares heteroimmunized with porcine zona pellucida. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility 85, 19–29.
CAS | PubMed |

McShea, W. J. , Monfort, S. L. , Hakim, S. , Kirkpatrick, J. , Liu, I. , Turner, J. W. , Chassy, L. , and Munson, L. (1997). The effect of immunocontraception on the behavior and reproduction of white-tailed deer. Journal of Wildlife Management 61, 560–569.
CrossRef |

Miller, L. A. , Johns, B. E. , and Killian, G. J. (1999). Long-term effects of PZP immunization on reproduction in white-tailed deer. Vaccine 18, 568–574.
CrossRef | CAS | PubMed |

Muller, L. I. , Warren, R. J. , and Evans, D. L. (1997). Theory and practice of immunocontraception in wild mammals. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25, 504–514.

Naugle, R. E. , Rutberg, A. T. , Underwood, H. B. , Turner, J. W. , and Liu, I. K. M. (2002). Field testing of immunocontraception on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) at Fire Island National Seashore, New York, USA. Reproduction Supplement 60, 143–153.

O’Connell A. F. , and Sayre M. W. (1988). White-tailed deer management study: Fire Island National Seashore. Final Report CA-1600-4-0005. National Park Service, Washington, DC.

Palmer W. L. , Storm G. L. , Quinn R. , Tzilkowski W. M. , and Lovallo M. J. (1997). Profiles of deer under different management and habitat conditions in Pennsylvania. In ‘The Science of Overabundance’. (Eds W. J. McShea, H. B. Underwood and J. H. Rappole.) pp. 151–163. (Smithsonian Press: Washington, DC.)

Peck, L. J. , and Stahl, J. E. (1997). Deer management techniques employed by the Columbus and Franklin County Park District, Ohio. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25, 440–446.

Rutberg A. T. (1997). The science of deer management: an animal welfare perspective. In ‘The Science of Overabundance’. (Eds W. J. McShea, H. B. Underwood and J. H. Rappole.) pp. 37–54. (Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, DC.)

Rutberg A. T. (2005). Deer contraception: what we know and what we don’t. In ‘Humane Wildlife Solutions’. (Ed. A. T. Rutberg.) pp. 23–42. (Humane Society Press: Washington, DC.)

Rutberg, A. T. , and Naugle, R. E. (2008). Deer–vehicle collision trends at a suburban immunocontraception site. Human–Wildlife Conflicts 2, 60–67.

Rutberg, A. T. , Naugle, R. E. , Thiele, L. A. , and Liu, I. K. M. (2004). Effects of immunocontraception on a suburban population of white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus. Biological Conservation 116, 243–250.
CrossRef |

Stout, R. J. , Knuth, B. A. , and Curtis, P. D. (1997). Preferences of suburban landowners for deer management techniques: a step towards better communication. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25, 348–359.

Swihart R. K. , Picone P. M. , DeNicola A. J. , and Cornicelli L. (1995). Ecology of urban and suburban white-tailed deer. In ‘Urban Deer: A Manageable Resource?’. (Ed. J. McAninch.) pp. 35–44. (North Central Section, The Wildlife Society: St Louis.)

Tober J. A. (1981). ‘Who Owns the Wildlife?’ (Greenwood Press: Westport, CT.)

Turner, J. W. , Liu, I. K. M. , and Kirkpatrick, J. F. (1992). Remotely delivered immunocontraception in captive white-tailed deer. Journal of Wildlife Management 56, 154–157.
CrossRef |

Turner, J. W. , Kirkpatrick, J. F. , and Liu, I. K. M. (1996). Effectiveness, reversibility, and serum antibody titers associated with immunocontraception in captive white-tailed deer. Journal of Wildlife Management 60, 45–51.
CrossRef |

Turner, J. W. , Liu, I. K. M. , Flanagan, D. R. , Rutberg, A. T. , and Kirkpatrick, J. F. (2001). Immunocontraception in feral horses: one inoculation provides one year of infertility. Journal of Wildlife Management 65, 235–241.
CrossRef |

Turner, J. W. , Liu, I. K. M. , Flanagan, D. R. , Rutberg, A. T. , and Kirkpatrick, J. F. (2007). Immunocontraception in wild horses: one inoculation provides two years of infertility. Journal of Wildlife Management 71, 662–667.
CrossRef |

Turner, J. W. , Rutberg, A. T. , Naugle, R. E. , Kaur, M. A. , Flanagan, D. R. , Bertschinger, H. J. , and Liu, I. K. M. (2008). Controlled-release components of PZP contraceptive vaccine extend duration of infertility. Wildlife Research 35, 555–562.
CrossRef | CAS |

Underwood H. B. (2005). White-tailed deer ecology and management on Fire Island National Seashore. National Park Service Technical Report NPS/NER/NRTR – 2005/022. (National Park Service: Washington, DC.)

Underwood H. B. , and Porter W. F. (1997). Reconsidering paradigms of overpopulation in ungulates: white-tailed deer at Saratoga National Park. In ‘The Science of Overabundance’. (Eds W. J. McShea, H. B. Underwood and J. H. Rappole.) Smithsonian Press, Washington, DC, pp. 185–198.

Full Text PDF (212 KB) Export Citation Cited By (22)