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Fertility control as a means of controlling bovine tuberculosis in badger (Meles meles) populations in south-west England: predictions from a spatial stochastic simulation model

By P.C.L. White, A.J.G. Lewis and S. Harris


A spatial stochastic simulation model was used to assess the potential of fertility control, based on a yet-to-be-developed oral bait-delivered contraceptive directed at females, for the control of bovine tuberculosis in badger populations in south-west England. The contraceptive had a lifelong effect so that females rendered sterile in any particular year remained so for the rest of their lives. The efficacy of fertility control alone repeated annually for varying periods of time was compared with a single culling operation and integrated control involving an initial single cull followed by annually repeated fertility control. With fertility control alone, in no instance was the disease eradicated completely while a viable badger population (mean group size of at least one individual) was still maintained. Near eradication of the disease (less than 1% prevalence) combined with the survival of a minimum viable badger population was only achieved under a very limited set of conditions, either with high efficiency of control (95%) over a short time period (1-3 years) or a low efficiency of control (20%) over an intermediate time period (10-20 years). Under these conditions, it took more than 20 years for the disease to decline to such low levels. A single cull of 80% efficiency succeeded in near eradication of the disease (below 1% prevalence) after a period of 6-8 years, while still maintaining a viable badger population. Integrated strategies reduced disease prevalence more rapidly and to lower levels than culling alone, although the mean badger group size following the onset of control was smaller. Under certain integrated strategies, principally where a high initial cull (80%) was followed by fertility control over a short (1-3 year) time period, the disease could be completely eradicated while a viable badger population was maintained. However, even under the most favourable conditions of integrated control, it took on average more than 12 years following the onset of control for the disease to disappear completely from the badger population. These results show that whilst fertility control would not be a successful strategy for the control of bovine tuberculosis in badgers if used alone, it could be effective if used with culling as part of an integrated strategy. This type of integrated strategy is likely to be more effective in terms of disease eradication than a strategy employing culling alone. However, the high cost of developing a suitable fertility control agent, combined with the welfare and conservation implications, are significant factors which should be taken into account when considering its possible use as a means of controlling bovine tuberculosis in badger populations in the UK

Year: 1997
DOI identifier: 10.1098/rspb.1997.0241
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:1387

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