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Chemical immobilisation and rangeland species: assessment of a helicopter darting method for Australian cattle

Hampton, J.O., Skroblin, A., De Ridder, T.R. and Perry, A.L. (2016) Chemical immobilisation and rangeland species: assessment of a helicopter darting method for Australian cattle. The Rangeland Journal, 38 (6). pp. 533-540.

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Chemical immobilisation (darting) is increasingly being used for the capture of rangeland animals. The aim of the present study was to assess a newly developed helicopter-based chemical immobilisation method for free-ranging Australian rangeland cattle (Bos taurus and Bos indicus). Eighteen cattle were darted from a helicopter in north-Western Australia in September 2015 using a combination of xylazine and ketamine, partially reversed with yohimbine. Following a recently published framework for assessing helicopter darting methods, we quantified several animal welfare measures designed to quantify the severity and duration of stress imposed by the procedures. The duration of the procedures was generally short (median total duration 41min), but for 33% of animals total duration exceeded 60min. Although the sample size was small, mortality rate on the day of capture was 17% (three animals) and 28% (five animals) required physical restraint to achieve recumbency. We describe this newly developed method and discuss its relatively poor animal welfare outcomes compared with other validated helicopter darting methods. Legislation restricts veterinary chemicals that may be used for food-producing species in many countries, including Australia. Chemical immobilisation regimens other than the one chosen in the present study may produce superior animal welfare outcomes but would not be compliant with legislation in Australia. As a result of these restrictions, we suggest that development of an improved helicopter darting method for Australian cattle may prove difficult. Rangeland managers should carefully consider animal welfare impacts before undertaking chemical immobilisation programs, especially for food-producing species.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: CSIRO
Copyright: © 2016 Australian Rangeland Society
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