BEIJING (AP) - Forestry officials in far western China have
resorted to scattering abortion pills near gerbil burrows in a bid
to halt a rodent plague threatening the desert region's fragile
ecosystem, state media said Wednesday.
The pellets, which resemble bran feed, have "little effect on
other animals," but can prevent pregnancy in gerbils and also
induce abortion in already pregnant females, the official Xinhua
News Agency said.
In 2003, officials installed hundreds of perches for owls and
eagles hoping the birds would cut back the rodent population but
gerbils have continued to be a problem, it said.
Gerbils use too much of the area's limited grass to make their
burrows and damage plant roots with their underground digging, it
Desertification is a major concern for China. Deserts currently
cover about one-third of the country and officials fear global
warming will accelerate their expansion.
The report did not say what was in the "tailor-made"
contraceptive pellets, which have been used in the Gurbantunggut
desert since May of last year.
"It's a good way to tackle the desert rat plague," local
forestry official Du Yuefei was quoted as saying.
Du, chief of the epidemic prevention division of the Changji
city forestry bureau, told Xinhua 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of the
drug was strewn over 49,000 hectares (120,000 acres) last year and
cost the bureau 80,000 yuan ($11,400).
There's been a slight drop in gerbil numbers since the program
was started, Du said, with about 11 gerbils now caught for every
100 traps laid out. Previously, 12 gerbils was the average.
Contraceptive pellets have been mixed into bird feed in St.
Paul, Minnesota to help rein in that city's pigeon population and
officials in Los Angeles have used contraceptive injections on
squirrels. Animal rights groups often support contraception as a
humane alternative to killing animals deemed pests.