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In 2001, the Conservancy worked with scientists at the University of North Dakota and the University of California, Davis, to conduct a study of the bison herd on Catalina and its interactions with the native habitats. The study determined that a bison herd of about 150 animals would be of minimal impact to Catalina’s environment. Although bison are non-native to Catalina, the Conservancy recognized that they are part of the cultural and historic fabric of the Island, and explored management options that would keep their numbers at about 150. The Conservancy currently manages its herd with this number in mind, but with an interesting, and innovative twist!

While throughout earlier history, Catalina bison had been shipped to auction to reduce their numbers, in 2003 a more fitting solution was sought. That year, an arrangement was made with the prosperous Morongo Band of Mission Indians to fund the repatriation of Catalina bison to the Rosebud Lakota Sioux,
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living on the Rosebud Reservation in Todd County, South Dakota—the second poorest county in the United States. Between 2003 and 2009, with support from the animal advocacy organization In Defense of Animals, more than 350 animals were shipped off the Island under a no-kill agreement to live out their years in South Dakota—part of their native range. It was a conservation first, and a win for the Catalina’s ecosystem, the bison, and the Lakota Sioux.

After the most recent bison roundup and shipment, the cost of the operation and stress to the animals from being rounded up and shipped off the Island was reassessed. While this approach had been a better alternative than auction, we believed we could do better yet. The Conservancy sought alternatives, and late in 2009, turned to a new method of managing the herd—contraception.
The Conservancy’s bison contraception program represents the first time that a new contraceptive drug (PZP) was used on a free-ranging bison herd. While still in its early stages, the approach appears to be working! In the spring of 2011, after the contraception program ramped up, bison births were dramatically reduced. It is believed that the few births that will occur each year should add just enough calves to keep the herd size stable at, or near 150 animals.
The Conservancy is optimistic that the contraceptive approach will deliver the best results with the least stress on the animals, and at a reduced cost. Incidentally, this approach of trying a solution, analyzing results, modifying the approach based on results until an ideal solution is discovered is called “Adaptive Management.” The Conservancy uses this approach in all its programs in order to adjust them to address changing conditions in the field, year-to-year, season-to-season.
Now you may be wondering about PZP: Is it a hormone? Does it change bison behavior or make them sterile? Find out by clicking here.

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