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How to keep a sleeping giant on its toes

How to keep a sleeping giant on its toes

Sedating captive elephants can be tricky! Not only is it complicated working with such a large animal when it’s lying down, but it can be stressful for the other elephants housed in the same group to watch as one of their counterparts is darted and brought to the ground.

Herein lies the challenge: how do you sedate an elephant enough to do minor veterinary procedures while still keeping it on its feet? The answer lies in a unique ratio of butorphanol, azaperone and medetomidine. The combination provides good sedation and analgesia without completely immobilizing the elephant….AND the added bonus is that the effects are fully reversible with naltrexone and atipamezole.

We tested the combination on 14 semi-captive elephants at Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development (H.E.R.D.). The elephants were successfully sedated while standing, allowing us to treat their wounds, take blood samples and safely vaccinate them all without any reactions. After 50 minutes, the sedation was fully reversed and in less than 8 minutes, all of the elephants had re-joined the herd.

A special thank you to the Dr Peter Rogers, Ms Adine Roode and the rest of the team at H.E.R.D. for their invaluable assistance. Without them, this study would not have been possible.