Close encounters

Veterinary researchers test contraception for bears

With human activity encroaching ever faster on wildlife habitats, folks are having more close encounters with black bears. To keep both people and the animals safe, the question is this: How do you keep black bears—the most widely distributed of the three bear species found in North America—from procreating?

Some states, including New Jersey, have authorized controversial bear hunts to limit the bear population. But perhaps the most ambitious plan is bear contraception. Allen Rutberg, assistant research professor of environmental and population health at the Cummings School, and his research team began testing a contraceptive called PZP on six female bears in October 2004. The vaccine, made from pig tissue, prevents sperm from attaching to an egg. The work is partly funded by the Humane Society of the United States.

Because bears give birth every other year, it will be February before the researchers know whether they’ve been successful.