Background: Studying wild animals in situ is fundamental to collecting baseline information, but generally they need to be immobilised for examination, sampling, marking and/or equipping with tracking apparatus. Capturing wild animals is inherently risky and there is a need for immobilisation methods that are safe for both the animals and researchers.
Methods: A total of 16 free-ranging swamp buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) were chemically captured by dart for the application of satellite tracking collars in tropical northern Australia; 7 animals were anesthetised with a thiafentanil–etorphine–azaperone (TEA) combination and 9 animals with a thiafentanil–azaperone (TA) combination. Anaesthesia was reversed with intravenous naltrexone. Mean dosages of etorphine and thiafentanil for animals in the TEA group were 0.01 mg/kg of each drug and mean dosage of thiafentanil for animals in the TA group was 0.02 mg/kg. Total dose per animal of azaperone and naltrexone was 80 mg and 150 mg, respectively. Anaesthetic monitoring was by physical observation of physiological variables, pulse oximetry and capnography. Blood laboratory parameters including creatine kinase (CK), aspartate transaminase (AST), serum bicarbonate and anion gap were measured.
Results: All subject animals recovered well from anaesthesia despite the occurrence of subclinical acidosis in some patients. There was no significant difference between the treatment groups. Conversely, chase time had an adverse effect on body temperature, irrespective of the anaesthetic combination used.
Conclusions: Thiafentanil and azaperone, with or without etorphine, delivered rapid safe, effective, reversible field anaesthesia in healthy swamp buffalo.