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Training for where the wild things are

By Chester Allen
Tenino, Washington (AP) 11-09

Fiona, a Mexican gray wolf, slowly curled her long, red tongue, but the rest of her sleek body was almost motionless.

Wildlife biologists and students had swaddled Fiona, who was deep in an anesthetic-induced sleep, with blankets as they drew blood samples, checked her vital signs, put on and took off a radio collar and even gave her a dose of birth-control medicine.

It was Fiona’s yearly medical checkup, and the most important hour of a three-day wildlife-handling course for wildlife biologists, technicians and students at Wolf Haven International.

“I have seen lots of wild wolves, and I’ve done lots of camera surveys, but I’ve never handled a wild wolf before,” said Kristoffer Everatt of Canada’s Yukon Territory. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Twenty-four wildlife professionals from tribes, state wildlife agencies and universities took part in the class.

Teaching biologists, veterinarians and wildlife technicians how to sedate, examine and keep wildlife safe under a dose of anesthesia is the goal of the three-day class, said instructor Dr. Mark Johnson, director of Global Wildlife Resources and former veterinarian at Yellowstone National Park.

Johnson was the veterinarian for the project that captured wild wolves in Canada and reintroduced them in Yellowstone.

Caring for anesthetized wildlife takes a great deal of attention to the animal’s body temperature, heart rate and breathing, Johnson said.

It also is important to handle the animals in a calm way and as little as possible.

For example, humans are tempted to stroke a wild animal under sedation, but that does more harm than good, Johnson said.

“What works with dogs on a leash doesn’t work with wild animals,” he said.

Teams of students cared for four wolves during class.

Johnson moved from group to group while dispensing advice on keeping the wolves under gentle control, when to take body temperatures, how to draw blood and other skills.

Biologists, veterinarians and technicians in the field have to work swiftly before the anesthetic wears off and make sure the animal comes out of the experience with as little harm as possible, Johnson said.

“Be calm and quiet,” he said. “If you think of this as confrontational, you’ll get tense; we want to minimize the stress for the animal.”

The class worked with wolves, but the training applies to all wildlife.

Fiona began waking soon after her crew of caregivers finished their examinations.

The entire group immobilized the wolf with gentle handholds that keep the head and rear legs under control; she then was slid into a recovery crate.

Fiona picked up her head and blearily peered around before she was taken back to her Wolf Haven compound.

Another crew moved another groggy wolf into a crate.

“Beautiful, beautiful,” murmured Levi Hamilton, a wildlife technician from the Muckleshoot Tribe.

“I’ll use what I learned when we’re doing studies on deer, elk and cougar,” Hamilton said. “This is great because it’s hands-on training with wolves.”

 

 

 

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