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Behavior of feral horses in response to culling and GnRH immunocontraception

By Jason I. Ransom, Jenny G. Powers, Heidi M. Garbe, Michael W. Oehler, Terry M. Nett, Dan L. Baker

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Wildlife management actions can alter fundamental behaviors of individuals and groups, which may directly impact their life history parameters in unforeseen ways. This is especially true for highly social animals because changes in one individual's behavior can cascade throughout its social network. When resources to support populations of social animals are limited and populations become locally overabundant, managers are faced with the daunting challenge of decreasing population size without disrupting core behavioral processes. Increasingly, managers are turning to fertility control technologies to supplement culling in efforts to suppress population growth, but little is quantitatively known about how either of these management tools affects behavior. Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) is a small neuropeptide that performs an obligatory role in mammalian reproduction and has been formulated into the immunocontraceptive GonaCon-B™. We investigated the influences of this vaccine on behavior of feral horses (Equus caballus) at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, USA, for a year preceding and a year following nonlethal culling and GnRH-vaccine treatment. We observed horses during the breeding season and found only minimal differences in time budget behaviors of free-ranging female feral horses treated with GnRH and those treated with saline. The differences observed were consistent with the metabolic demands of pregnancy and lactation. We observed similar social behaviors between treatment groups, reflecting limited reproductive behavior among control females due to high rates of pregnancy and suppressed reproductive behavior among treated females due to GnRH-inhibited ovarian activity. In the treatment year, band stallion age was the only supported factor influencing herding behavior (P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 157
Pages 81-92
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.05.002
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Hormones
  2. Horses
  3. Social behavior
  4. wildlife management