“IPPL’s sanctuary has been located in Summerville since 1977, and we have never had any escapes, as all our housing is double-welded,” says our executive director, Shirley McGreal. “We have had some occasions when we needed to anesthetize a gibbon, but fortunately these have been rare. However, it’s always good to be prepared for any eventuality.”

Last weekend, our junior animal caregivers Meg McCue-Jones and Brandon Spivy headed to Athens, Georgia, for intensive training on the chemical immobilization of animals, with an emphasis on the safe capture of nonhuman primates, via a class offered by Safe-Capture International. We’d sent our long-time caregivers Donetta Pacitti and Hardy Brown to the class previously, and they both got a lot out of it.


Our intern Blair, practicing with blow darts at last weekend’s Safe-Capture class, is officially ready for bear. (Or whatever she may encounter as a future wildlife biologist.)

Our summer intern from last year, Blair St. Ledger-Olson, is about to finish her BA in Environmental Studies at Hollins University, so she got away for a weekend and joined them. She was hoping to pick up some tips in preparation for her future fieldwork as a grad student in wildlife biology.

The instructor, Dr. Mark Drew, is the state wildlife veterinarian for Idaho and had taught exotic animal medicine at Texas A&M University. Says Brandon, “He really emphasized proper handling of medications. He wanted us to learn from his mistakes. Like not using your mouth as a ‘third hand’ to put the cap back on a syringe full of ketamine.”

Dr. Drew was very willing to help, and Meg and Brandon spent a couple of extra hours with him going over specific concerns. Shirley was glad that he had suggestions for acclimating some of our pickier gibbons to taking medications. “Gibbons are so smart, they tend to find pills, however well hidden!” says Shirley. “We now have some great ideas on ways to hide pills and shall try them out.”

Brandon and Meg

Our animal caregivers Brandon and Meg do a little target practice.

In regard to immobilization, Dr. Drew felt that our procedure for isolating a gibbon and administering ketamine to provide the initial anesthesia is safe and offers the least impact to the animal. Once we’ve isolated a target gibbon in a small segment of aerial runway (using temporary wooden partitions), we can get a direct injection into a thigh muscle in well under a minute. No need for dart guns.

Actually, they’re not supposed to be called “dart guns;” they’re “dart projectors.” As Dr. Drew made a point of saying, “They’re not for causing harm, they’re for administering anesthesia or a medication—they’re for good, not evil!”

Meg studies

Meg thought the hardest part of the class was having to sit still for 12 hours at a go!

Meg and Brandon both liked learning about the pharmacology of various anesthetics and enjoyed the target practice with the latest makes and models of dart guns—errr, “projectors.” They also agreed that the hardest part of the class was sitting still for 12 hours a day, all weekend long. “My knee started to hurt,” says Meg (who coaches and refs soccer almost daily after a full day’s work at the sanctuary, without complaint).

“At IPPL, we are very proud of our animal care crew,” says Shirley, “and we like to provide them with unique training opportunities, like these Safe-Capture classes.”

Brandon and Meg with Dr. Mark Drew

Brandon and Meg, proud certificate holders, pose with their instructor, Dr. Mark Drew.


  1. Rebecca on March 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    This is certainly a very worthwhile course. IPPL has always done a great job of equipping caregivers with tools to provide superior safety and protection for both gibbons and staff.

    • marianne on March 6, 2013 at 8:56 am

      I believe this was a very good experience for non-human primate caregivers. I have been in many situations trying to capture non-human primates and I must say a class would have been very helpful. Although I never had that experience I am happy to see this now exists for the safety of the primates and the support staff. good luck to you guys brandon and meg. the two of you do such good work. marianne.