Faecal cortisol metabolites in Bengal (Panthera tigris tigris) and Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae)
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The tiger (Panthera tigris) faces a great risk of extinction as its wild numbers have plummeted due to poaching and habitat destruction so ex-situ conservation programs are becoming ever more necessary. Reliable non-invasive biomarkers of the stress hormone (cortisol) are necessary for assessing the health and welfare of tigers in captivity. To our knowledge, non-invasive stress endocrinology methods have not been tested as widely in tigers. The first aim of this study was to describe and validate a faecal cortisol metabolite enzyme-immmunoassay (FCM EIA) for two tiger sub-species, the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). Individual tigers (n = 22) were studied in two large Zoos in Queensland, Australia (Dreamworld Theme Park and Australia Zoo). Fresh faecal samples (<12 h old) were collected each morning from both Zoos over a study period of 21 days. Biological validation was conducted separately by collecting feces 5 days before and 5 days after blood was taken from four male and five female tigers. Results showed that mean FCM levels increased by 138% and 285% in the male and female tigers within 1 day after bloods were taken, returning to baseline in 5 days. Laboratory validations of the FCM EIA were done using an extraction efficiency test and parallelism. Results showed >89% recovery of the cortisol standard that was added to tiger faecal extract. We also obtained parallel displacement of the serially diluted cortisol standard against serially diluted tiger faecal extract. Our second aim was to determine whether the FCM levels were significantly different between tiger sub-species and sex. Results showed no significant difference in mean FCM levels between the Bengal and Sumatran tiger sub-species. Mean levels of FCMs were significantly higher in females than in male tigers. Those male and female tigers with reported health issues during the study period expressed higher FCM levels than the reportedly healthy tigers. Interestingly, those tigers that took part in some activity (such as walks, photos, presentations and guest feeds) expressed moderately higher FCM levels at Dreamworld and lower FCM levels at Australia Zoo in comparison to those tigers that did not take part in such activities. These results indicate potential habituation in some tigers for routine activity through specialized training and pre-conditioning. In conclusion, the FCM EIA described in this study provides a reliable non-invasive method for evaluating the stress status of tigers in Zoos.
General and Comparative Endocrinology
Copyright 2013 Elsevier. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal's website for access to the definitive, published version.