China's official government news service Xinhua reports that officials are now using contraceptive pills to cut down an ever-rising gerbil population in the northwest. Xinhua describes the gerbil population as a "plague" and notes that the bran-like pellets are harmless to all other organisms. From Xinhua:
Staff in desert administration station in Changji City, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, started to feed gerbils tailor-made drug during the main breeding season in May 2008.
"Besides pregnancy prevention, the drug can induce abortions, and thus largely reduce their breeding rate," said Du Yuefei, chief of the epidemic prevention section under the city's forestry bureau.
The gerbils pose a major threat to agriculture and horticulture as the rodents store grass in complicated burrows that seriously damage the root stalks of plants. One such hole can store 40 kg of grass.
Regional officials, prior to resorting to abortion pills, populated the area in 2003 with hundreds of perches for owls, hawks and myriad other birds of prey. However these measures did not adequately stymie the gerbil onslaught.
And though they have been declared inocuous, the exact contents or collateral effects of the pills are not really known. From the Telegraph:
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.