Students conduct raccoon drug research


Western biology students are doing undergraduate research evaluating how certain pharmaceuticals affect raccoons.

RaccoonThe goal of the research team is to understand the physiological behavior of raccoons while under the influence of three particular drugs. They want to know how long it takes for the
animal to become safe to handle, how long it remains safe to handle and how long it takes for the animal to fully recover and be safely released back into the wild.

The raccoons were caught in traps and given a drug mixture of Ketamine Hydrochloride, Acepromazine Maleate and Atropine. The target drug, Ketamine, is a disassociate anesthetic, which blocks the sensory pathways in the animal’s brain. Acepromazine is a tranquilizer, which is used to make the induction and recovery processes smoother. It also enhances the action of the Ketamine. Atropine reduces salivation, thereby reducing loss of body water.

This anesthetized state is necessary. Raccoons are predators and big enough to be dangerous. Using anesthetics has several advantages for both raccoon and biologist. When a raccoon is chemically restrained, it is relaxed and does not feel discomfort. This allows the biologist’s hands to be completely free to perform quickly, safely and accurately whatever procedures need to be done.

Cary Chevalier, associate professor of biology, introduced this idea to students. He has always been interested in wildlife physiology. Some of the students involved in the study with him are Brooke Hodge and Steven Hellstrom.

“There are vital signs that we monitor from the minute the animal is safe to handle until the animal is not safe to handle,” Chevalier said. “We monitor respiration rate, heart rate and body temperature.”

This is largely uncharted territory.

“In order to know the animal is okay, you have to have some data on these vital signs that you can look at and say ‘that’s normal,’” Chevalier said. “That’s part of what we are doing. We are establishing normal values for urban raccoons that are being restrained by this drug cocktail. Those normal values aren’t in the literature.”

This is a valuable experience for biology students. It gives them hands-on experience with wild animals and collecting data. The applied learning experience is just another plus for the students.

“Wildlife conservation and biology majors have a variety of resources available to them on campus which they can utilize to facilitate their professional development,” Hellstrom said.
“These resources include professors like Dr. Chevalier, who provides opportunities for field research. Our campus itself has a variety of microhabitats that students can utilize for field
research within walking distance. And finally, Missouri State Conservation Department office is also located on campus.”

This is only one of the studies involving raccoons that Chevalier involves students in. For example, a related study focuses on blood chemistry and hematology on raccoons.

“Blood chemistry values can be diagnostic,” Chevalier said. “We can look at blood chemistry, and it can tell us something about the status of the animal’s body. We can look at blood chemistry and realize that the animal is normal and healthy or look at its blood chemistry and realize the animal likely has certain imbalances dealing with disease or parasites.”

The students feel this research has been beneficial to their professional development.

“Being a wildlife major, this study has given me animal-handling experience, trapping experience and experience with tranquilizers,” Hodge said. “It puts me a little ahead of the

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