Fertility control is a potential method for managing overabundant wildlife populations; however, current technology is limited by duration of treatment efficacy and unacceptable side effects. The objective of this study was to determine the efficacy of a single immunization with gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) vaccine to suppress reproductive function in pregnant female elk and to evaluate potential behavioral and pathological side effects of treatment. Eighteen captive adult female elk were randomly allocated to one of two experimental groups. Ten females were administered a conjugated and adjuvanted GnRH vaccine intramuscularly, and eight elk received an adjuvant sham vaccine without conjugated GnRH. We compared success of existing pregnancy, neonatal survival, subsequent fertility, reproductive behavior rates, and side effects of treatment between January 2006 and January 2010. The GnRH vaccination did not affect existing pregnancy or calf survival during the year that it was applied; however, it reduced the proportion of pregnant females for 3 yr. Male precopulatory behavior rates exhibited toward GnRH-vaccinated females tended to be greater than those directed at sham-vaccinated females during the second half of the breeding season, when GnRH vaccinates continued to be proceptive. Strong immune and inflammatory responses, including robust GnRH antibody concentrations in GnRH vaccinates, and sterile pyogranulomatous injection site abscesses in both groups, were consistent with vaccination. In conclusion, this GnRH vaccine resulted in prolonged, albeit reversible, impairment of fertility, and is associated with extended reproductive behaviors and partial suppression of hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis function in captive female elk.
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Vol. 85 • No. 6