To the relief of wildlife everywhere, animal darting cleans up its act
Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Dispatches, September 1998
Last May, when California Fish and Game warden Dave Smith got a call informing him that a black bear was skulking around a suburb of Riverside, Smith did what he usually does in such cases: He filled three high-impact plastic
Two hours later, Smith and his team located the interloper. It lumbered across a pasture and clambered up a tree, thereby exposing its haunch and allowing Smith’s colleague, Steve White, an easy shot. The dart found its mark; the bear lowered itself to the ground, stumbled woozily into a small puddle, inhaled a bucketful of water, and drowned. Aghast, the wardens furiously
Contrary to what is generally assumed, the science of wildlife darting (or immobilization, as the pros call it) has never been the sort of clinical, fail-safe process Marlin Perkins made it appear on Wild Kingdom. Ever since the first dart rifle replaced the old net-and-wrestle capture techniques, animal darters wielding guns, syringes, and poisons so deadly that a single drop
Today, 40 years after the invention of the dart rifle, the science is still so haphazard that at least one-third of all immobilizations are botched in some way — infected wounds, broken legs, or death. Which is why masters of the trade are now scrambling to impose some badly needed regulations. “Anyone can buy a dart gun out of a feed catalog,” says Keith Beheler-Amass, a
Nevertheless, experts are still concerned that far too many amateurs are harming the fauna they’re trying to protect. “Some of the mortality rates are atrocious,” says Beheler-Amass, who recently got a call from a game manager who was trying to immobilize 23 whitetail deer. “He managed to kill 19 of them. It was a slaughter.”
Photograph by ????