Evaluating physiological stress in Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae) managed in Australian zoos
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Glucocorticoid quantification using non-invasive methods provides a powerful tool for assessing the health and welfare of wildlife in zoo-based programmes. In this study, we provide baseline data on faecal-based glucocorticoid (cortisol) monitoring of Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris ssp. sumatrae) managed at the Melbourne Zoo in Victoria, Australia. We sampled five tigers daily for 60 days. Faecal cortisol metabolites (FCMs) in tiger faecal extracts were quantified using enzyme immunoassays that were successfully validated using parallelism and accuracy recovery checks. Two female tigers had significantly higher mean FCM levels than the two males and another female, suggesting that females may have higher FCM levels. A significant elevation was noted in the FCM levels for one female 2 days after she was darted and anaesthetized; however, the FCM levels returned to baseline levels within 3 days after the event. Comparative analysis of FCM levels of tigers sampled at Melbourne Zoo with tigers sampled earlier at two other Australian Zoos (Dreamworld Themepark and Australia Zoo) showed that FCM levels varied between zoos. Differences in the enclosure characteristics, timing of sampling, size and composition of groupings and training procedures could all contribute to this variation. Overall, we recommend the use of non-invasive sampling for the assessment of adrenocortical activity of felids managed in zoos in Australia and internationally in order to improve the welfare of these charismatic big cats.
This article has been accepted for publication in Conservation Physiology. Copyright Parnell, et al. 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for Experimental Biology. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Animal Physiology - Systems