BACKGROUND : Opioid-induced immobilization is associated with severe respiratory depression in the white rhinoceros.
We evaluated the efficacy of butorphanol and oxygen insufflation in alleviating opioid-induced respiratory depression
in eight boma-managed rhinoceros.
RESULTS : Chemical immobilization with etorphine, azaperone and hyaluronidase, as per standard procedure for
the white rhinoceros, caused severe respiratory depression with hypoxaemia (PaO2 = 27 ± 7 mmHg [mean ± SD]),
hypercapnia (PaCO2 = 82 ± 6 mmHg) and acidosis (pH =7.26 ± 0.02) in the control trial at 5 min. Compared to
pre-intervention values, butorphanol administration (without oxygen) improved the PaO2 (60 ± 3 mmHg, F(3,21) =151.9,
p <0.001), PaCO2 (67 ± 4 mmHg, F(3,21) =22.57, p <0.001) and pH (7.31 ± 0.06, F(3,21) =27.60, p <0.001), while oxygen
insufflation alone exacerbated the hypercapnia (123 ± 20 mmHg, F(3,21) =50.13, p <0.001) and acidosis (7.12 ± 0.07,
F(3,21) =110.6, p <0.001). Surprisingly, butorphanol combined with oxygen fully corrected the opioid-induced hypoxaemia
(PaO2 = 155 ± 53 mmHg) and reduced the hypercapnia over the whole immobilization period (p <0.05, areas under
the curves) compared to the control trial. However, this intervention (butorphanol + oxygen) did not have any
effect on the arterial pH.
CONCLUSIONS : Oxygen insufflation combined with a single intravenous dose of butorphanol improved the
immobilization quality of boma-managed white rhinoceros by correcting the opioid-induced hypoxaemia, but did
not completely reverse all components of respiratory depression. The efficacy of this intervention in reducing
respiratory depression in field-captured animals remains to be determined.