My research focuses on how to make anesthesia safe for the rhinos in the field. Unlike in a controlled, surgical space inside a veterinary or human hospital, there are many challenges in the field. One of these challenges is managing stress on the individual rhino before, during and after translocation. I am also working with a team to figure out how to decrease the amount of stress and health consequences associated with the translocation of individual rhinos.
Before the translocation, a rhino’s stress comes when it is darted with the anesthesia and they instinctively run. When the drugs kick in, the rhino stops running but it’s normal rest and recovery is depressed by the anesthesia. Because of side effects like this, it is important that the rhino is closely monitored during and after the translocation. Working closely and collaboratively with Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarians, scientists and rhino experts becomes key to ensuring the safety of the rhinos and all human handlers throughout the entire translocation process.
Once the animal arrives to a new area, they can experience some stress. Eastern black rhinos develop high levels of stress after a translocation which can lead to larger issues for the animals. They may experience immunosuppression—or the reduction of efficiency in the immune system—and have an increased chance to develop a disease from infections or parasites. Increased stress can also slow down the rate of reproduction and, therefore, limit the number of calves born.
While our research is still in the early stages, the goal is to find a way to reduce these undesired affects. Saliva and fecal samples, collected non-invasively, will help us study the rhino’s reaction on a biological level to the capture and translocation process and determine how to better perform the procedures. With the help of the rangers, I will also observe the rhinos’ behavior after the translocation. If we are successful, the rhinos should be healthier and able to produce many calves in the future, contributing to greater conservation of their species!