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Francesca Vitali graduated in 2016 in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Milan with full marks, with a degree thesis entitled “Comparison of two protocols for the immobilization of free-ranging and captive lions: dexmedetomidine-ketamine Vs. medetomidine-ketamine and their reversal with atipamezole". She gained experience in the field of zoological medicine during two years of internship at the Anaesthesia unit of the Teaching Hospital of the University of Milan, and three externships at Kenya Wildlife Service Veterinary Department and Veterinary Hospital of San Diego Zoo. Her research interests focus on restraint-related physiological alterations and safer management of zoo and wildlife species.

Full professor (October 2017) of Veterinary Physiology. The scientific activity of professor Faustini is oriented towards the reproduction and endocrinology of livestock and other species (bovine, swine, horse, small animals), and the study of milk from endangered local bovine breeds in Italy. Recently, a parallel activity for the study of wild and domestic species personality and activity was started. The scientific production of professor Faustini is documented by over 200 publications in international peer-reviewed journals, national journals, and congress proceedings. Didactical activity includes courses of veterinary physiology, lactation and muscle physiology and nanomaterials in regenerative medicine.


Title: Study of the physiology of endangered wildlife and zoo species for the advancement of field veterinary management

The veterinary management of wildlife and zoo animals is assuming a primary role for the conservation of endangered species. Procedures like translocations, radio-collaring, sampling for disease control and research studies are more and more commonly performed in both ex situ and in situ contexts, and also the veterinary care of the remaining individuals is nowadays essential for their preservation.

Safe restraints are of primary importance in the management of non-domestic animals, to guarantee the safety of the people involved in the operations and that of the animals, by using minimally invasive techniques.

Today, pharmacological immobilisation of wild and captive animals is considered the safest way for restraint, but is still characterised by high morbidity and mortality rates. The anxiety and stress resulting from the capture combined with over-exertion start a vicious circle that leads to a severe homeostatic imbalance. Furthermore, the drugs used to perform the capture worsen the situation by depressing homeostatic compensation systems.

Currently, only few studies analyse from a physiological point of view the mechanism of complications and the role of risk factors, and those are limited to few species. In addition, there is limited knowledge on specie-specific physiological reference values, cardiorespiratory dynamics and the different reactions to capture-related stress in the different species, which dramatically increase the chances of complication and decreases the ability to manage them.

In the light of this, the purpose of the project is to bring advances in the veterinary management of wildlife and zoo endangered species, by investigating on specie-specific physiology during capture events in order to detect critical points and predisposing factors of morbidity and mortality. The focus is to develop methodologies of restraint that keep the stress to a minimum by complying specie-specific ethological traits, and field techniques able to re-establish physiological homeostasis altered by the consequences of capture.

The project is being mainly developed in national parks across Kenya and in zoological parks in Italy and abroad, in collaboration with leading institutions of zoo and wildlife medicine. The study design is focused on a systematic research on the factors that alter the normal physiology during veterinary management procedures and to understand the mechanism that leads to severe homeostatic imbalance, with a greater emphasis on the rising of both physical and pshycological stress. For this purpose, an extensive analysis is being performed that considers the existence of endogenous and exogenous factors of risk and their correlation with in-depth physiological monitoring and laboratory analyses, and morbidity and mortality rates.

The research outcome is to draw up guidelines to decrease the complication rates related to veterinary restraint and develop field cost-effective techniques for the preservation of physiological homeostasis under chemical immobilisation. Simultaneously, it also has the aim of contributing with new data to haematology, blood gases, electrolytes and hormones databases of rare animals.


Fig. 1 -  Helicopter darting of free-ranging elephants

Fig. 2 - Monitoring of an immobilised lion