Saturday, September 25, 2010

Walking African buffalos

The capture of wild animals is an amazing field! Trying out new immobilization methods and drugs is very exciting and each time different. My main goals in wildlife immobilization are 1) the safety and welfare of the animal (the least possible stress and physical disturbance) and 2) the safety and welfare of our team. Because mobile cranes are often not available in the bush, heavy African buffalos are most times carried on a stretcher by manpower. An average African buffalo bull weights around 800kg! Approximately 10-14 strong guys are needed to do this job. But wow, these big bulls are just too heavy to carry with manpower. Even a 6 month old calf is heavy already (see the face of the guys on the picture). So when I started this job and I was asked to move 12 adult African buffalo bulls I decided to walk them, exactly the same as a rhinoceroses (see earlier in this blog). Why not let these heavy animal walk into the truck themselves? More comfortable for both the team as well as the animal. Better for their wellbeing and muscles, as laying too long is not good for the blood circulation and the rumen. On top of that, it is always better to have the anesthetics as light as possible. To get a buffalo to walk, one must use a partial antidote for the opioid etorphine used to immobilize them. This antidote wakes the animal up, just a little bit: light enough to be able to walk and deep enough to keep the situation safe (don't forget African buffalos are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa!). This technique has been used before with another partial antagonist diprenorphine, but the effect of the diprenorphine is often unpredictable. The animal tends to wake up too much, so this technique has not been widely used. Most wildlife vets still prefer to carry African buffalos on a stretcher for this reason. The success with using another, fairly new partial antagonist butorphanol was quite impressive. After successfully walking 109 buffalos (never needed a stretcher), I have learned a lot and now I know how much butorphanol I should give for the effect I want. Amazing to work with these powerful drugs and these powerful beautiful animals. Since we started to walk our buffalos when they have to move, the staff is happier to move buffalos. They are relaxed and quiet, which is crucial. At first they thought that I woke up these dangerous animals completely and they run for their lifes; a few times I was by myself pushing the buffalo in the trailer. Now everybody knows what I am doing (the buffalos are still sleeping!), it's a pleasure to walk a buffalo. Even all small calves walk themselves when they need to move, so no sore backs anymore. Last month an escaped adult buffalo bull was walking next to a railway line. Never a dull moment! Just after I darted him, two meter from the railway line, we heard the train coming... Scared that the bull was gonna fall asleep on the railway line, we quickly chased him into the bush. Luckily he fell asleep 20 meters further, just before the train passed. To be able to walk him to the trailer through the tick bush was very nice. We would neve have been able to get the trailer close enough to the animal to carry it inside. The manager of the farm was very happy when he was safely in the trailer, because this bull 'Butie' (brother) is his favorite.

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