Dr. Oakley’s job often takes her into wild, dangerous places, and requires her to perform hair-raising tasks. Some of these tasks require having a keen shot with a dart gun and the sharp mind of a pharmacist working on the fly. Many of the animals that Dr. Oakley treats are wild and very large, which means they require chemical capture to keep their treatment safe for all involved. On this week’s episode of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet, the doctor proves that her aim is impressive. The history and the advances in the science of the chemical capture with animals is also impressive.
The History of Chemical Capture and Restraint
Chemical capture is the use of anesthetic drugs to immobilize an animal for capture. Humans have been using chemical capture for hunting for thousands of years. Indigenous people on several continents have utilized blowpipes made from native plants to fire darts at the animals they hunt. Dipping these wooden darts in naturally-occurring paralytic drugs gave hunters the ability to more effectively hunt their prey.
The first documented modern case of using chemical restraint with wild animals was probably in 1820 when a biologist used an oral mixture of honey and strong spirits to capture bears for study. The first “drug dart” was used for restraining and studying wildlife in 1953. The first modern darts used contained liquid immobilizing agents. The chemicals were injected into the animal through a hollow needle on the front of the dart and were fired through a modified shotgun-style gun.
Chemical Restraint Today
While chemical restraint is designed to keep animals safe from injury and also to keep them calm during procedures, the early drugs had their drawbacks. In the past, the safety margin to the animals was very narrow and miscalculating the dose could very easily cause the animal’s death. In 1960, biologists had a significant breakthrough when a mixture of morphine, hyoscine, and various tranquillizers was pioneered for this use. The new mixture was much safer for the animals.
The most recent major advance in chemical capture and chemical restraint for transporting wildlife has been the adoption of long-acting tranquillizers normally used for humans. These drugs have significantly reduced the numbers of animals that perish during long-distance transportation while in captivity, and following introduction into new habitats. Biologists anticipate that progress will continue in both the drugs and the delivery equipment.
While most people think of chemical capture as simply “tranquilizing” an animal, it is actually a lot more complex. Capturing and sedating animals with a dart gun involves anesthetizing an animal under the most difficult of circumstances. It requires making a judgment call on the health of the animal and using drugs without knowing the exact weight of the animals and without the benefit of pre-anesthesia.
Dr. Oakley makes it look easy, but chemical capture is an inherently complex process with a number of dangers, not the least of which is a large aggressive animal waking when you aren’t prepared. There’s never a dull day in Dr. Oakley’s world!
Catch an encore of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet: A Face Full of Quills tonight at 8/7c on Nat Geo WILD!