WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

Filed Under:

On The Coast: Vaccinating Wild Assateague Ponies

Play associated audio

Imagine a nature walk on a beautiful barrier island not far from Ocean City, Md. Now imagine a nature walk where your chief objective is to find wild horses and administer a birth control vaccine.

That's all in a day's work for scientist Jay Kirkpatrick. In the late 1980s, he launched a vaccination program on Assateague Island, known around the world for its wild horses. Those horses were rapidly reproducing and damaging the island's fragile ecosystem.

"We had 175 horses here, and they were having a serious impact on the general ecology, and that included nesting birds and small mammals and marshes that should be knee-high in grass looked like golf courses," says Kirkpatrick.

So he developed a method of administering a contraceptive vaccine via a dart gun.

"It was the first time the vaccine had been used on free-ranging wildlife of any species," he says. "And we treated 26 mares that first year, never touched an animal. And in 1989 we had zero foals out of those 26 mares, and no one had never done that before,"

He says the vaccine, now used with animal populations all over the world, isn't all that different from those we give ourselves.

"It's a vaccine, and it causes antibodies to be produced," says Kirkpatrick. "In most vaccines those antibodies fight some disease process. In this case, the antibodies actually block fertilization.

Of course, before you can vaccinate a wild horse, you have to get close to it. On a recent visit to Assateague Island, Kirkpatrick and a colleague spent hours trekking across remote marshes in search of a particularly elusive mare. They eventually did administer the vaccine to the horse, but the process was an arduous one.

"This is not easy, and there are people who support it and promote it, but they don't have a clue how difficult this is," he says.


[Music: "Wild horses" by Bossa Nova on Bossa N' Stones]

NPR

'Star Wars' Editors Defy Hollywood Conventions

In a film industry often dominated by men, there's at least one exception: Many editors are women. Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey speak about their work on the new Star Wars.
NPR

Florida Says Its Fruits, Vegetables Are Safe From Invasive Fruit Fly

Since September, Florida has been fighting an infestation of the Oriental fruit fly, an invasive pest that threatened more than 400 crops. The state declared the insect eradicated as of Saturday.
NPR

Obama Remembers Scalia As 'Consequential,' Vows To Appoint Replacement

President Obama struck a somber tone, remembering the late-Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as a "towering legal mind" who influenced a generation, but made it clear, he intends to replace him.
NPR

Colonialism Comment Puts Facebook Under Scrutiny

A Facebook board member lambasted a decision by regulators in India, the social network's second-largest market. He thereby sparked new scrutiny of Facebook's intentions in that country.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.