A Review of Oleoresin Capsicum (Pepper) Sprays for Self-Defense Against Captive Wildlife
David S. Miller, MS, DVM
The recent rescue of a zookeeper from a tiger enclosure with the use of a pepper spray (oleoresin capsicum; OC) highlights the potential value of such products for protecting humans in captive wildlife settings. However, a number of factors should be considered when incorporating such products into captive wildlife safety programs. A number of different OC products are being marketed. Some OC products are registered for use on animals, while others are intended for use on humans for self-defense or police purposes. All OC products are crude extracts derived from hot pepper plants. These products are useful for self-defense because they cause temporary yet severe pain and inflammation when they contact ocular and respiratory mucous membranes. The subsequent compromise of vision and respiratory function may debilitate an attacker and allow a defender to escape attack. The elements of surprise and skin discomfort may also contribute to the efficacy of OC products. Factors to consider when evaluating for OC products include percentage of capsaicin, number of Scoville units, grams of product in a given sized container, spray type, spray range, safety features, and whether the product is to be used inside or outside. Although the effects of OC products are short-lived, it is important to be familiar with appropriate decontamination procedures after an OC product is discharged. Guidelines should be established which restrict the use of OC products to situations where human life is endangered. Staff in zoological institutions should be offered training programs on OC products which include information on guidelines for use, liability coverage, the product’s mechanism of action, instructions on use, practice with ‘dummy’ cylinders, and appropriate clean-up procedures.