Comparison of cardiopulmonary effects of etorphine and thiafentanil administered as sole agents for immobilization of impala (Aepyceros melampus)



To compare the cardiopulmonary effects of the opioids etorphine and thiafentanil for immobilization of impala.

Study design 

Two-way crossover, randomized study.


Impala were given two treatments: 0.09 mg/kg etorphine or 0.09 mg/kg thiafentanil via remote dart injection. Time to recumbency, quality of immobilization and recovery were assessed. Respiratory rate, heart rate (HR), mean arterial blood pressure (MAP) and arterial blood gases were measured. A linear mixed model was used to analyse the effects of treatments, treatments over time and interactions of treatment and time (p < 0.05).


Time to recumbency was significantly faster with thiafentanil (2.0 ± 0.8 minutes) than with etorphine (3.9 ± 1.6 minutes; p < 0.007). Both treatments produced bradypnoea, which was more severe at 5 minutes with thiafentanil (7 ± 4 breaths/min) than with etorphine (13 ± 12 breaths/min; p < 0.004). HR increased with both treatments but significantly decreased over time when etorphine (132 ± 17 to 82 ± 11 bpm) was compared with thiafentanil (113 ± 22 to 107 ± 36 bpm; p < 0.001). Both treatments caused hypertension which was more profound with thiafentanil (mean overall MAP = 140 ± 14 mmHg; p < 0.001). Hypoxaemia occurred with both treatments but was greater with thiafentanil [PaO2 37 ± 13 mmHg (4.9 kPa)] than with etorphine [45 ± 16 mmHg (6.0 kPa)] 5 minutes after recumbency (p < 0.001). After 30 minutes, PaO2 increased to 59 ± 10 mmHg (7.9 kPa) with both treatments (p < 0.001).

Conclusions and clinical relevance 

The shorter time to recumbency with thiafentanil may allow easier and faster retrieval in the field. However, thiafentanil caused greater hypertension, and ventilatory effects during the first 10 minutes, after administration.