Remembering Jay: Friends and supporters pay tribute to Dr. Jay F. Kirkpatrick, pioneer of humane fertility control vaccine, PZP

Nov. 23, 2016 - Compassion, persistence and a strong belief in science and logic: All of these were at the center of Jay Kirkpatrick’s work as a pioneer of humane solutions for wildlife endangered by culls and roundups.

Friends, colleagues and supporters of Jay’s work gathered this past week in Bryn Mawr, Penn., to pay tribute to this great man and his work.

Kirkpatrick, who died in December 2015, founded the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Mont., a non-profit lab that manufactures PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida) for zoos, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries worldwide.


Dr. Jay F. Kirkpatrick                                                                               Dr. Jay F. Kirkpatrick

PZP is safe, effective and humane. It is an organically derived vaccine that prevents pregnancy in female animals – including wild horses, bison, elephants and urban deer and more than 80 species of zoo animals - and is administered by a dart. The vaccine doesn’t harm animals, jeopardize existing pregnancies or pass into the surrounding environment. For all of these reasons, it is a giant leap forward from steroid contraceptives and invasive sterilization surgeries.

PZP is also temporary, requiring a booster shot after two years in most species in order for its contraceptive properties to continue. This gives flexibility to wildlife managers trying to balance habitat. If a herd of horses, for example, reaches a healthy size, PZP can be used to control its numbers. If more offspring are desired, PZP treatment can be paused.

With PZP, wildlife managers can control wildlife populations in place without resorting to cruel and costly roundups, as is the case for U.S. wild horses, or killing animals, as is the case with African elephants, American bison and urban deer. It is also used with many animals in zoos that do not have enough space for animals to reproduce each year.

Jay is gone, but his work continues. In fact, interest in PZP is greater than ever, and the Science and Conservation Center scrambles to meet demand, manufacturing the vaccine and training managers and wildlife advocates how to administer it.

The “Remembering Jay” event was hosted at Bryn Mawr College by his longtime friend Priscilla N. Cohn and was attended by a small group of Jay’s acquaintances and friends from around the country.

It was Jay’s wish to remembered at a gathering such as this and that, in his own words, “anyone who gives a damn” would drink a toast of “something good" in his memory.

There are people all over the world who give a damn about Jay and his legacy – far more than could attend this single event. But those present kept them all in mind as they lifted their glasses in Jay’s honor. 

Those attending watched this video featuring an interview where Jay detailed the mission of the Science and Conservation Center’s mission and PZP.

John Turner, a fertility control researcher at the University of Toledo, then told stories about the “real Jay” – not the scientist in his Science and Conservation Center uniform, but the fun-loving outdoors enthusiast he met back in 1966 in graduate school at Cornell.

                                                                          Jay "back in the day." Photo by John Turner.

John showed photos of the many backpacking and camping trips he, Jay and friends enjoyed throughout the years and detailed the first uses of PZP in wild horses on the Assateague National Seashore in Maryland. The herd there has been managed with PZP for nearly 30 years now. The horses live in balance with their habitat and other wild species, are healthier and live longer. This year, National Park Service managers at the seashore paused PZP because the herd is currently at an ideal size.

Perhaps the best reflection of Jay can be found in his own words, excerpted from a letter he wrote to John Turner from Assateague in March 1991:

"I found the carcass of an old friend of ours. It was M4. She was 20 ….  I briefly laid my hands on her neck — touched her — it was something no man had done during her 20 years.  She died less than a mile from where she had been born. She had never been captured, rounded up, immobilized, or otherwise harassed. M4 was born wild. Lived free and permitted the dignity to die where she had lived. We are scientists but my emotional half mourned her loss. For a few moments I lost sight of the fact that I should have been celebrating her life and not mourning her death. I almost lost sight of the tribute that her life — and death — represented to the park service officials who elected to find a humane solution. I almost missed the whole picture.’’

Another colleague, Allen Rutberg, a fertility control researcher at Tufts University, also recounted working with Jay at Assateague and discussed how PZP has been used to manage white-tail deer in urban areas, such as on Fire Island, New York. There is great potential to use fertility control in many other urban areas to spare deer from inhumane management practices such as culls, urban archery hunts and sterilization surgery.



                                                                        Dr. Allen Rutberg

Sydell  R. Gross, a Philadelphia-area wildlife advocate who worked for more than 30 years trying to protect the deer of Tyler State Park, provided a letter in which she recalled Jay as a “talented scientist with a heart, and a charming and gracious man.” 

John Grandy, former senior vice president for wildlife and habitat protection with the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society International, praised Jay's work as an advocate and protector of wildlife worldwide.



                                                                  Attendees at the "Remembering Jay" event

Others speaking remembered Jay’s stubborn persistence, which was always tempered by kindness, his insistence that decisions should be based on science – not emotion, and his love for wildlife and the natural world. You can read more about Jay in this article by Priscilla N. Cohn.

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                                                                                       Photo by John Turner

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