by Dr. Dr Sanjeet Kumar and Dr Singray Kullu
A Field Training on Immobilization of Wild Animals. April 08, 2022, the 11th day of the course and our day of reckoning. The time had come to see for real all that we had learned in class, practiced in the field, and talked about over meals and tea.
Each one started the day a little earlier than usual, with a bit of nervousness but with a bigger spring in our step. Today was the day we were going to immobilize an animal in the field and it was not a prop this time. By 5:30 AM we were ready after a hot cup of tea. The excitement was palpable. We were divided into teams and each team was given a specific responsibility.
We all left with our respective teams in the jeeps, ready for a new learning experience. The first team was the “darting team” lead by Dr Nigam and two of us got a chance to be part of the darting team (myself, Dr Sanjeet and Dr Anshul) and to be in the lead vehicle. An apparently healthy Sambar doe was identified in a herd (we remembered the dos and don’ts of selecting an animal while immobilizing clearly). With some anticipation from us and encouragement from Dr Nigam, the dart with Medetomidine and Ketamine was fired. There was complete silence all around and surely some crossed fingers… eager heads peering over the jeeps to get a look at what happens next. The data collection team was spot on in noting the timing of the shot and all the signs exhibited by the animal as it went under. As if it was a textbook chapter the animal exhibited knuckling and went into sternal recumbency in 14 mins. Once the animal was down, the blindfold was placed and the head positioned and the other teams moved in. The “search and weigh” team placed the animal on the stretcher, it took the team and some additional help to get the animal onto the stretcher. The doe was indeed a healthy animal at over 162 kgs. After we got a quick weight, she was moved to a clearing. The “monitoring and sample collection” team then got into action. Vitals (temperature, respiratory rate and quality respiration, heart rate, colour of the mucous membrane etc) were recorded every 5 mins. Simultaneously blood, hair, faecal pellets etc. were collected as biological samples and morphometrics were recorded. Dr. Nigam and the other tutors supervised the process and firmly made sure that things went smoothly. We learned the need to be firm, focused and confident in our actions. It was time to revive the animal and with a final pat goodbye and we all went back into the jeeps. The reversal drug (Atipamazole) was given I/m and in 7 minutes she rose and sauntered off towards the herd with all of us saying silent hoorahs.
With each learning experience one only gets better. The teams were switched, and another male Sambar was selected. The stag was darted by the darting team and again the process of searching, blind-folding and positioning, weighing, monitoring of all the vitals, and morphometrics was done. Some interesting behavior amongst the members of the herd was documented. The teams worked in better co-ordination and the Sambar stag was revived on completion of the process. He too stumbled off to join his herd with us watching from our jeeps stationed at a safe distance. We then went to Kalighati for breakfast, all the while enthusiastically sharing our observations, learnings, and experience. We were joined by Shri Khati, former PCCF, Uttarakhand who shared his experiences and spoke about the important and invaluable role played by veterinarians in a team managing wildlife and wildlife habitats. It made us feel proud to be veterinarians. We reached back to Sariska Palace and completed the last leg of the exercise. The samples were appropriately segregated, labelled, packed, and sent to the lab for a preliminary analysis of the haematology and biochemistry. In the evening there was a debriefing session and also some more darting practice…. Only practice makes perfect!
It was a day well spent, with the learning and experiences imprinted in our minds like a beautifully made film that will stay with us always!