Non-invasive fecal hormone analysis and behavioral observations for monitoring stress responses in captive western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

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Abstract

Non-invasive techniques for monitoring the stress response in captive western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) were investigated. Fecal samples for cortisol measurement and concurrent behavioral data were collected from six individuals in a socially housed gorilla group (one adult male, three adult females and their three offspring) over a 7-month period. Despite inter-individual variation in the dynamics of fecal cortisol concentrations over time, several major secretory peaks coincided across individuals. High cortisol concentrations in feces were correlated with induced stressors or behavioral observations indicating high social tension, with a 1–2 day lag period. Entry progression order of the gorillas into a den complex and a supplant-based dominance index were suitable indicators of overall dominance hierarchies, and fluctuations over time reflected periods of instability. Diurnal variation in fecal cortisol was not apparent when comparing afternoon and morning samples, however the sample collection interval was relatively short (3–5 hr). These results demonstrate the feasibility of monitoring stress responses based on the dynamics of both fecal cortisol excretion and behavior. This non-invasive approach may be used for gauging responses to changes in husbandry, environment and group structure of captive gorillas. Zoo Biol 0:1–15, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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