In southern Africa, wild animal capture in the early 1960s often consisted of physical restraint following a chase and roping. There were very few “capture” drugs available other than nicotine sulphate and succinylcholine, both with serious side-effects, high mortality and animal welfare issues. Things changed with the arrival of Etorphine HCL or M99®, with experimental work being carried out by Dr Tony Harthoorn on a number of wildlife species including elephant and rhino. In Zimbabwe, over the next three decades several key developments resulted in the “state of art” capture that is practiced today. Some highlights include:
- Formation of the Poisons Board Veterinary Committee during the 1960s, which eventually became the Veterinary Committee of the Drugs Control Council (DCC).
- Development of the first one-day course in the mid 1970s on the use of drugs to capture wild animals. This was exclusively for National Parks staff.
- Establishment of an annual training course in the early 1980s as well as the introduction of formal exams and licenses to help control the distribution of unregistered drugs.
- Expansion of the course in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to the recruitment of expert lecturers from South Africa and visiting lecturers from overseas. An edited manual was also introduced in 1996 to provide comprehensive notes, diagrams and photographs to further enhance the course.
- Relocation of the training course in February 2000 to Zimbabwe’s south-east lowveld, an area rich in wildlife bordering the Gona-Re-Zhou National Park.
The development of a training course on wildlife capture, using the inputs and experience from pioneers in the field of wildlife capture and translocation, has promoted the safe and responsible use of chemical immobilization for the management of wildlife in Zimbabwe. Throughout southern Africa, veterinarians, researchers, and wildlife managers work as part of a team dedicated to improving capture methods, reducing stress and mortalities and attending to animal welfare.
Increasing legal controls over the use of immobilizing drugs has further encouraged this team approach, particularly in countries such as South Africa where the use of dangerous drugs has been limited to licensed veterinary professionals.
The Malilangwe Course in Chemical and Physical Restraint of African Wildlife represents the evolution of ideas, knowledge, and experience over the last 30 years that can only be of benefit to the wildlife industry in southern Africa and those professionals around the world working with captive or free-ranging wild animals. This course is a testament to the energy and hard work by all involved over the years.