Wildlife Capture & Care Blog

Wildlife Capture & Care Blog

Welcome!! This blog is for you if:

This blog is for you if:

  • You capture and handle captive or free-ranging wildlife and always wish to do better.
  • You want practical, field-based information on equipment and protocols to maximize success and the safety of both humans and animals.
  • You care for the animals you are working with and wish to learn and share how to incorporate our caring heart-felt values into our tools, techniques, and mannerisms.
  • You are new to the zoo and wildlife professions and you wish to learn the highest standards in wildlife capture and handling.
  • You would like to read stories from the field about our joys, our success, our challenges and the issues facing our work.

This is your opportunity to learn and improve how we capture and handle captive and free-ranging wildlife. In this blog, Dr. Mark and his colleagues will share their stories, tools, techniques, protocols, and attitudes to improve animal care, efficiency in the field, and success as a wildlife or zoo professional. Dr. Mark encourages us to learn from every animal, every capture event, and every colleague. As he assists with field captures or teaches a chemical immobilization course he also gathers new practical tools and ways for improving our chemical capture skill and field experience and shares them with you.

Dr. Mark’s blog articles are just a hint of the great training offered in his online chemical capture courses.

Read More »Welcome!! This blog is for you if:

How To Evaluate Which Wildlife Drug Combination to Use

Dr. Mark describes creating new drug combinations for immobilizing lynx

Note: This blog article is a bit technical but it covers the basics for how to choose an immobilizing drug combination for a wildlife research or management program.

To learn more, register for The Foundations of Wildlife Chemical Capture which covers in detail the immobilizing drugs, drug delivery systems, drug dose calculations, and animal care.

Canadian lynx looking at usAs project veterinarian for a Colville Tribe lynx translocation program I’m recommending drug combinations for the project that possibly have not been used in lynx before.

I‘m not satisfied with the previous drug combinations that have been used for lynx. I want what is best for the animal and safe for the biologist. To come up with these new drug combinations, I utilized my 30+ years of experience as a wildlife veterinarian and the latest tools and practices.

Developing a new drug combination required me to consider:

Radio collaring a lynx in AlaskaHow practical is the drug combination for the biologists? They will be capturing lynx in harsh winter conditions.

    • Do they have to draw each drug up or will it be pre-mixed?
    • Do they have to calculate drug doses or can they follow an easy chart?
    • Are the volumes easy to work with and will the volumes be suitable for the drug delivery system they choose to use?
    • How long do the drug combinations cause the animal to be down for and how long do the biologists have to remain in the field?

How does each drug combination affect the animal?

    • Does it produce a strong anesthesia (unresponsiveness) so it is safe for the biologists?
    • Does it produce a safe anesthesia for the animal where temperature, pulse, and respiration values are within healthy ranges in this extreme weather?
    • Does it produce a short or long downtime?
    • Is the drug combination reversible so the biologist can wake the animal up as soon as processing is done or when there is a serious concern for how the animal is doing?
    • Is the recovery relatively smooth and easy for the animal?

So here’s what I came up with:

Read More »How To Evaluate Which Wildlife Drug Combination to Use

A New Drug Combination for Cougars

The Kalispell tribe is successfully using a new drug combination for mountain lions and Bart George, wildlife biologist for the Kalispell Tribe Wildlife Program tells the story.

The Project

Bart George and Curt Golden with drugged mountain lionThe Kalispel Tribe Wildlife Program in cooperation with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement and the Steven’s County Sheriff’s Office is conducting research on cougar behavior and modification through the use of hazing/aversive conditioning.

The program has been developing a new drug combination using BAM and ketamine for cougars (puma concolor) on a project in Northeast Washington State. The project requires cougars to be collared, then tracked/hazed over the course of five weeks, then re-captured and the collars removed. Since the project began in late 2019, we have captured then re-captured 29 individuals, representing 62 actual capture events (three cats were trapped and used as control cats, then recaptured and added to the project).

Read More »A New Drug Combination for Cougars

Wildlife Health Connections Podcast Part 1: Dr. Mark Johnson – Stories and Wisdom from 35 years of Wildlife Capture and Handling

Dr. Michelle Kneeland of WildlifeHealth.org is presenting a podcast interview with me as I share my stories and adventures from 35 years as a wildlife veterinarian. Listen to me describe a mountain lion capture in a severe winter storm. Hear what it feels like capturing grizzly bears.

Learn how there is so much more about chemical capture than knowing about the immobilizing drugs and drug delivery systems.

Michelle describes what sets me apart with my whole approach to how I handle wildlife – with respect and calm energy throughout the process. There are ways of Doing, which is what most chemical capture courses teach, and there are ways of Being.  Listen to the podcast to as I describe how to handle wildlife with respect and calm energy and how that enhances our professional experience.

Link to Wildlife Health Connections podcast with Dr. Mark Johnson

Read More »Wildlife Health Connections Podcast Part 1: Dr. Mark Johnson – Stories and Wisdom from 35 years of Wildlife Capture and Handling

The Future in “Bear hair”: Will noninvasive DNA sampling advances minimize the need to capture & handle bears for management & research?

Dear colleagues, 

I am honored to have Tyler Brasington bring his field experience and knowledge to this blog as he writes about non-invasive grizzly research.  Thank you, Tyler!”  Dr. Mark

Grizzly bear rubbing on tree

Capturing and chemically immobilizing bears is stressful for the animal. Therefore, it is imperative that researchers and managers justify all capture events, thoroughly evaluating potential alternatives to a hands-on approach.1, 8, 9 In some cases, the information required to meet management and research objectives can only be obtained through capture and handling (i.e., deployment of radio/GPS collars for monitoring). However, if research questions and objectives can be answered using alternative, noninvasive methods, researchers should think about using these approaches first.6 The goal of this summary is to highlight new and developing non-invasive technologies and techniques which may offer broader applicability, better efficiency and effectiveness, and address multiple research questions simultaneously,13 while reducing the need to capture and handle bears in the field.

Capture and handling methods (i.e., deployment of radio/GPS collars) allow researchers to address questions surrounding the overall health of a population by drawing blood for complete blood count (CBC) generally reflecting the bears health and condition at the time of capture, disease analysis, tick borne diseases, cub survival, and causes of mortality. Collaring bears also offers the opportunity to answer spatially driven questions surrounding habitat preference and movements. Unfortunately, genetic sampling furnishes no details on age, reproductive status, body condition, daily movement patterns, or habitat use.10

Read More »The Future in “Bear hair”: Will noninvasive DNA sampling advances minimize the need to capture & handle bears for management & research?

How to REALLY Find Wildlife Work

“Dear colleagues,

I am honored to have Michelle Kneeland DVM write this inspiring article.  This blog will have guest authors once a month.  Thank you, Michelle!”  Dr. Mark


Many wildlife students are becoming dismayed by the current job market and difficulties they face in finding wildlife career opportunities.

I understand because I’ve been there too.  I know what it’s like to be trapped in a sea of applicants, struggling to stay afloat. You keep treading water, hoping to be the next “chosen one” that gets thrown a life raft and hired for that position you desperately want.

Michelle Kneeland with TapirMost applicants believe their only option is to compete against each other for the limited number of available jobs. After multiple rejections, many passionate and brilliant people start to wonder if their career is dead in the water.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  I’ve been through this myself and I found a different way forward.

There was one particular point when I was trying to advance to the next stage of my profession but nothing was working out for me. Every job opportunity was incredibly competitive, and even when I made it to the final round there was always some specific “thing” they were looking for that I didn’t have.  I was always the square peg trying to fit into the round hole.

I came to the conclusion that I needed to stop letting other people dictate my career. I realized that I didn’t need to wait for someone to give me permission to pursue the type of career I desired. I didn’t have to choose from the options presented to me- I had the ability to create my own options.


Read More »How to REALLY Find Wildlife Work

ALWAYS Use a Headcover with Every animal – or Should We?

For decades, I have been teaching that we should always use a headcover with every animal we chemically immobilize. Always.

Last night I watched a very high-end documentary about wildlife research and one of the more prominent researchers never used headcovers when drugging their bears. The film directors and the bear researcher who I respect obviously cared deeply for each animal yet the uncovered face of the drugged bears seemed out of place to me. The film had me pondering about my strong stance about using headcovers.

I realized that my reasons for stressing the use of headcover with every animal fall into several categories: 1) Animal care, 2) Human Safety, and 3) Respect for the animal.

Here are the pros and cons for using a headcover with chemically immobilized animals….

Read More »ALWAYS Use a Headcover with Every animal – or Should We?