Pioneering Chemical Immobilisation Solutions for Wildlife Veterinarians Worldwide

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Welcome to our comprehensive guide on wildlife immobilisation techniques, safety protocols, and their crucial role in wildlife conservation efforts. For any wildlife veterinarian, understanding how to safely immobilise and handle wild animals is essential. Here we will delve into the fundamentals of wildlife immobilisation, its importance, and best practices to ensure the welfare of both animals and humans.

Empowering wildlife care with cutting edge solutions, at Wildlife Pharmaceuticals we offer specialised products for the chemical immobilisation of wild and exotic animals. Our comprehensive range includes wildlife anaesthetics, sedatives, tranquilisers and antidotes and Pneu-Dart products, designed for precise delivery of medications.

With our top-tier solutions, veterinarians, researchers and wildlife professionals can safely and effectively manage and care for diverse animal species, contributing to conservation efforts and the welfare of wildlife populations worldwide.


This web page serves as a valuable resource for anyone involved or interested in the field of wildlife immobilisation. By following best practices, ensuring safety, and considering the welfare of animals, we can contribute to the preservation of our planet’s diverse wildlife. Stay informed, stay safe, and help protect the world’s precious wildlife.

What is Wildlife Immobilisation?

Wildlife immobilisation refers to the practice of temporarily rendering wild animals immobile or sedated. Wildlife immobilisation is a critical component of modern wildlife management and conservation.

Why are Wildlife Animals Immobilised?

  • ResearchImmobilisation allows researchers to study wild animals up close, collecting data on behaviour, physiology, and health, which aids in scientific understanding and conservation efforts.
  • Veterinary Care: Wildlife immobilisation is crucial for providing medical care, treating injuries, and conducting health assessments, especially for injured or sick wildlife animals.
  • Population Management: It facilitates wildlife population control through translocation, contraception, or relocation to maintain ecological balance and prevent human-wildlife conflicts.
  • Protection: Immobilisation is used to temporarily subdue potentially dangerous or threatened species to protect them from harm during relocation, rescue, or human-animal conflict resolution.
  • Monitoring and Tagging: Researchers tag, collar, or mark animals during immobilisation to track their movements, gather migration data, and monitor the overall health of populations.
  • Rescue and Rehabilitation: Injured or orphaned wildlife may require immobilisation for transport to rehabilitation centres, where they can receive care and eventually be released back into the wild.

Common Wildlife Immobilisation Techniques

  • Chemical Immobilisation (Darting): Chemical immobilisation of wildlife refers to the strategic use of specialised medicines, such as anaesthetics, tranquilisers and sedatives, to temporarily render wild animals unconscious or less responsive. This method involves using specialised darts or syringes to administer these medicines to the target animal. It is commonly used for larger and more dangerous species where physical restraint is impractical. 
  • Trapping and cages: Traps and cages are often used for species that are difficult to approach and are generally suited for species such as hippopotamus, predators, crocodiles and birds of prey. Trapping and the used of cages is often followed by chemical immobilisation or sedation in order to reduce animal stress and safely handle animals.
  • Drop-nets: This system generally consists of a mesh nylon net erected in the field and camouflaged by both its colour and the natural vegetation. The nets are suspended by cables, metal or wooden poles or vegetation so that when animals are herded (usually by vehicle, on horseback, on foot or by helicopter) into the nets, the attachments collapse and the nets fall down so that the animals become entangled in them. This system is suitable for the capture of smaller species inhabiting dense bush, such as bushbuck and nyala as well as animals inhabiting open plains like blesbok, springbok, oribi, impala and tsessebe.
  • Net guns: A net gun is a hand-held physical restraint device that uses an explosive charge to project a net over an animal. Square or triangular nylon nets are loaded into a special canister which is then loaded into a 3 or 4 barrel firearm and fired with a blank cartridge. Net guns, fired either from a vehicle or a helicopter, can be used for smaller plains game species such as reedbuck and sitatunga that do not herd well in groups as well as mini antelope species such as duiker, dik-dik and klipspringer.

What Medicines Are Used For Chemical Immobilisation

  • Anaesthetics: Anaesthetics are medicines used in wildlife immobilisation to induce a complete loss of consciousness. They are often reversible, making them ideal for surgical procedures or extensive medical examinations on wild or free-ranging animals. They eliminate pain perception and muscle activity, ensuring the animal remains immobile and experiences no distress or pain during these procedures. Opioid analgesics, dissociative anaesthetics and inhalation anaesthetics fall within this category and are used for wildlife immobilisation.
  • Sedatives: Sedatives are medicines that produce a state of drowsiness and reduced activity through depression of the central nervous system, making it easier to handle and transport wildlife animals. Unlike anaesthetics, sedatives do not induce complete unconsciousness, allowing for minimal interference with the animal’s natural behaviours. Sedatives are reversible through the administration of antidotes and their effects are dose-dependent so that an increase in dose will result in an increase in effect. Benzodiazepines and alpha-2 adrenoreceptor agonists fall within this category and are used for sedation or as part of wildlife immobilisation protocols, usually in combination with anaesthetics.
  • TranquilisersTranquilisers, also known as neuroleptics, modify central nervous system function and are used to calm and relax animals without causing unconsciousness. They reduce stress and anxiety in captured wildlife, making it safer for both the animals and handlers during examinations, tagging, or relocation. Unlike sedatives, they do not have antidotes and increasing the dose does not increase the effect of these medications. Phenothiazine derivatives, butyrophenones and thioxenthenes fall within this category and are used to tranquilise wildlife animals or as part of wildlife immobilisation protocols, usually in combination with anaesthetics.
  • Watch our free webinars on Tranquilisers and Sedatives Used in Wildlife Medicine and The Use Of Potent Opioids In Wildlife Veterinary Medicine

Remote Drug Delivery Systems

These innovative systems are designed to safely administer medications and immobilising agents to wildlife from a distance, minimising human-wildlife interaction and stress to the animals.

  • Air Pressure-Based Dart Guns: Air pressure-based dart guns are specialised firearms that utilise compressed air to forcefully propel darts, allowing for precise and low-noise delivery of immobilising medications to wildlife from a safe distance.
  • Powder Charge-Based Dart GunsPowder charge-based dart guns are firearms that use blank cartridges to discharge tranquiliser darts with significant force, making them ideal for immobilising larger wildlife species and enabling remote medication administration while ensuring the safety of both the animals and handlers.
  • Blowpipe Dart Guns: Blowpipes are handheld devices that use the operator’s breath to propel darts. They are typically used for small or delicate species due to their minimal noise and impact.
  • Pole Syringes: A pole syringe is a sepcialised elongated pole-mounted syringe that is used to accurately deliver the required medicine dose to wildlife animals that can be approached at a close distance. It is commonly used in caged animals and has the benefit of causing minimal pain, thereby reducing stress to the animal.
  • Watch our free webinar on Remote Drug Delivery Systems Used in Wildlife

Wildlife Species Specifics

  • Considerations for Immobilising Different Species: Considerations for immobilising different species are paramount in ensuring the safety and well-being of both animals and handlers. Certain species may require higher doses of anaesthetics due to their particular physiology, while other species may be more sensitive to these medicines and may therefore require lower doses. Similarly, certain medicines like potent opioids may work well in herbivores but may be contraindicated in predators like big cats. In reptiles, their ectothermic nature means that body temperature plays a major role in drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion. The selected immobilisation protocol must be adapted accordingly. Understanding the unique physiology, anatomy, behaviours, and stress responses of each species is essential in tailoring immobilisation techniques and protocols to minimise risks and optimise the success of immobilisation procedures. Additionally, factors such as environmental conditions and habitat should be taken into account to adapt immobilisation strategies accordingly.
  • Watch our free webinar on Physiological Consideration for Immobilising Different Wildlife Species

Step-by-Step Procedures for Chemical Immobilisation:

Wildlife immobilisation involves a series of systematic steps to ensure the safety and well-being of both the animals and the personnel conducting the procedure.

  • Preparation: Begin by thoroughly assessing the target animal’s location, behaviour, and the surrounding environment. Ensure that all necessary equipment and medications are ready.
  • Drug Selection: Choose the appropriate anaesthetic or immobilising drug combination based on factors like the species, weight, and health of the animal. Calculate the correct dose(s) required.
  • Darting: Use projectile darting systems or other remote delivery methods to administer the drug from a safe distance. Ensure accurate dart placement for optimal drug absorption.
  • Observation: After darting, closely monitor the animal’s behaviour, looking for signs of sedation. This may include ataxia, slower movements, drooping eyelids, or a loss of muscle tone.
  • Handling: Once sufficiently immobilised, approach the animal cautiously and secure it for further examination or procedures. Exercise extreme care to avoid injury to both the animal and the immobilisation team.
  • Recovery: After the necessary procedures are completed, provide appropriate care and support for the animal’s recovery. Certain protocols will enable reversal of the anaesthetic agent by administration of an antidote while others may necessitate the natural recovery of an animal in a safe environment through metabolism of the anaesthetic. Always ensure that the animal can breathe freely and maintain proper body temperature.

Safety Considerations During the Chemical Immobilisation of Wildlife

  • Human Safety: Ensuring the safety of the immobilisation team and bystanders is paramount. Proper training, the use of personal protective equipment, and adherence to safety protocols are essential to minimise risks.
  • Animal Welfare: Prioritising the welfare of the immobilised animals is crucial. This includes monitoring vital signs, minimising stress, and ensuring proper handling and care throughout the immobilisation process.
  • Legal and Ethical Aspects: Ethical considerations include minimising harm to animals and conducting work on wildlife that benefits animal welfare and conservation efforts. It’s crucial to underscore that the responsible use of wildlife immobilisation medicines may only be done by trained and registered veterinary and medical professionals, in accordance with local and international regulatory requirements, with a strict commitment to ethical considerations. Proper care and monitoring are essential to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals involved. 

Resources on Chemical Immobilisation of Wildlife


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The Wildlife Pharmaceuticals Pharmacy offers a range of investigational medicines to veterinarians within South Africa. Our dedicated team, including expert Pharmacists, possesses in-house experience in regulatory affairs and product lifecycle management of sterile veterinary parenteral products. We are committed to sharing this expertise with you.



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Easily track your darted animal with the new 414 PLL (Phase Lock Loop) Transmitter Dart
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