10 January 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Animal Conservation
A giraffe after a successful immobilisation capture being prepared for safe relocation.

From 2007 to 2014, the country experienced an exponential rise in rhino poaching – a growth of over 9,000%. Most illegal activities occur in the Kruger National Park.


Contributing to fight this battle is a group of five former students and colleagues from the UFS Department of Chemistry, now in the employment of Wildlife Pharmaceuticals. Situated in the Nelspruit area, Dr Inus Janse van Rensburg, Head of Research and Development; Lizette Janse van Rensburg, Head of Operations; Leo Kirsten, API expert; Dr Rikus Peens, API chemist; and Dr Chris Joubert, Laboratory Specialist, are working at this pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. The company specialises in the development, manufacturing, and end use of wildlife medicines.


With the medicines they develop, they are able to immobilise animals. Prof André Roodt, Discipline Head of the UFS Division of Inorganic Chemistry, who attended Indaba 9 with members of his research team in Skukuza, Kruger National Park, said wildlife species are being chemically immobilised for different reasons.


Prosecution of poachers


One example is of a rhino which was immobilised after a successful dehorning procedure by veterinarians and personnel of Wildlife Pharmaceuticals. As part of a programme to discourage poaching, selective DNA data collection is also conducted by some veterinarian groups for future use in the possible prosecution of individuals who are dealing with rhino horn. As soon as a rhino that was killed during poaching has been discovered, samples of the animal are obtained for a full analysis.


These samples are then stored on a database. Wherever rhino horn is confiscated (even internationally), the DNA is analysed, and the database may be consulted to see where the specific rhino was killed. The person in possession of the rhino horn may then be charged with the ‘killing’ of the original rhino.


Prof Roodt explained that the foundation of all medicines is based on active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) present in the finished pharmaceutical product, be it tablets, capsules, a syrup or a sterile injectable liquid. In accordance with local and international regulations and guidelines, chemists at API facilities are manufacturing these APIs globally.


Wildlife conservation


The APIs are respectively incorporated into registered finished pharmaceutical products, which are then used by registered veterinarians for chemical immobilisation and reversal of immobilisation in wildlife species.


According to Prof Roodt, the importance of developing appropriate chemical agents and the role of chemical manufacturing are crucial for animal conservation, with a scope far beyond the field of animal immobilisation, thus extending it to animal health, treatments, and vaccinations.


Besides saving our rhinos, wildlife species require immobilisation for different reasons. This can include, for example, wound treatment, relocation, and surgical procedures. “It is critical that the animals be immobilised to ensure limitation of stress to the animal, mitigate self-harm, allow safe handling of the animal, and for operator safety. These activities will be impossible to execute without chemical immobilisation of the animal,” said Prof Roodt.


Dr Janse van Rensburg, who received his PhD in the UFS Department of Chemistry in 2008, said the department, through exposing its students to, among others, complex equipment in labs as well as work in international labs to critically assess and benchmark their work against others, contributed to the success of his career at Wildlife Pharmaceuticals.

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