Ortega, A.C., Dwinnell, S.P.H., LaSharr, T.N., Jakopak, R.P., Denryter, K., Huggler, K., Hayes, M., Aikens, E.O., Verzuh, T., May, A., Kauffman, M.J., and Monteith, K.L. (2020). Effectiveness of Partial Sedation to Reduce Stress in Captured Mule Deer. Journal of Wildlife Management, 84: 1445–1456. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21929.
Information garnered from the capture and handling of free-ranging animals helps advance understanding of wildlife ecology and can aid in decisions on wildlife management. Unfortunately, animals may experience increased levels of stress, injuries, and death resulting from captures (e.g., exertional myopathy, trauma). Partial sedation is a technique proposed to alleviate stress in animals during capture, yet efficacy of partial sedation for reducing stress and promoting survival post-capture remains unclear. We evaluated the effects of partial sedation on physiological, biochemical, and behavioral indicators of acute stress and probability of survival post-capture for mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) that were captured via helicopter net-gunning in the eastern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Wyoming, USA. We administered 10–30 mg of midazolam and 15 mg of azaperone intramuscularly (IM) to 32 mule deer in 2016 and 53 mule deer in 2017, and maintained a control group (captured but not sedated) of 38 mule deer in 2016 and 54 mule deer in 2017. To evaluate indicators of acute stress, we measured heart rate, blood-oxygen saturation, body temperature, respiration rate, and levels of serum cortisol. We recorded number of kicks and vocalizations of deer during handling and evaluated behavior during release. We also measured levels of fecal glucocorticoids as an indicator of baseline stress. Midazolam and azaperone did not reduce physiological, biochemical, or behavioral indicators of acute stress or influence probability of survival post-capture. Mule deer that were administered midazolam and azaperone, however, were more likely to hesitate, stumble or fall, and walk during release compared with individuals in the control group, which were more likely to trot, stot, or run without stumbling or falling. Our findings suggest that midazolam (10–30 mg IM) and azaperone (15 mg IM) may not yield physiological or demographic benefits for captured mule deer as previously assumed and may pose adverse effects that can complicate safety for captured animals, including drug-induced lethargy. Although we failed to find efficacy of midazolam and azaperone as a method for reducing stress in captured mule deer, the efficacy of midazolam and azaperone or other combinations of partial sedatives in reducing stress may depend on the dose of tranquilizer, study animal, capture setting, and how stress is defined.