The Wildlife Capture Course: A Structured Approach to Training Wildlife Professionals in Zimbabwe
The annual Wildlife Capture Course conducted by the Zimbabwe Veterinary Association (Wildlife Group) is now recognized as the leading training program in chemical and physical restraint of wild animals in Africa. It is a rigorous training program for both veterinarians and non-veterinarians with participants receiving expert instruction in both physical and chemical restraint of wildlife. In the past 10 years, it has been attended by veterinarians and wildlife professionals from eighteen countries.
Progressive wildlife laws conferring appropriate authority on landowners have encouraged enormous growth within the wildlife industry throughout the southern African sub-region. As a result, there has been a greatly increased demand for the capture and translocation of many wild animal species. Increased demand for animals by landowners has encouraged the establishment of privately operated wildlife management units in addition to those already established within the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. These units have ensured the expert capture and translocation of the many wildlife species required to re-stock depleted farmland. Early recognition for the need for veterinary involvement in, and oversight of these operations in Zimbabwe resulted in the establishment of the Wildlife Unit, Department of Veterinary Services and the Veterinary Unit, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management staffed by a total of four veterinarians. The overwhelming requirement for veterinary involvement in field operations emphasized the need for adequately trained non-veterinarians in many sectors of the industry.
In the late 1980s an innovative team of wildlife veterinarians in Zimbabwe expanded a preexisting one-day training seminar into the current Wildlife Capture Course. Wildlife veterinarians experienced in the field have been recruited from Zimbabwe and South Africa to provide expert lectures and practical demonstrations and a unique and comprehensive training manual has recently been introduced. The Wildlife Capture Course is currently held at a 105,000-acre wildlife conservation area (Malilangwe Wildlife Trust) in the southeast lowveld of Zimbabwe. The 1 week-long course includes a 5-day lecture series and emphasizes practical training: handling and use of immobilizing drugs, drug safety, preparation and loading of darts, and practice using different darting systems. Field immobilizations (including elephant, various ungulates and lion) provide ‘hands-on’ experience for all participants. Demonstrations of field postmortem techniques, net-gun capture, and general guidelines for ‘mass capture’ and transport are included. Furthermore, the location allows local community involvement with an emphasis on conservation. The training manual, updated annually, emphasizes the latest, cutting-edge capture techniques being developed in southern Africa and abroad and has become the definitive reference for many involved in wildlife capture. This course affords a unique opportunity for zoo veterinarians to expand their knowledge of chemical and physical restraint of wild animals.