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Keywords:

  • fecal glucocorticoid metabolite;
  • management;
  • noninvasive monitoring;
  • welfare

Abstract

Monitoring adrenal activity through noninvasive fecal hormone sampling is rapidly gaining popularity as a tool to assess zoo animal welfare. However, few studies have sought to investigate the interrelationships between behavior, adrenal activity, and environment, and ask whether both behavioral and adrenal monitoring strategies are required to assess welfare sufficiently. We present the findings of a 9-month study of a small group (one male, two females) of Western lowland gorillas, Gorilla gorilla gorilla. First, we examined the effect of environmental variables on gorilla behavior. Second, we examined the effect of environmental variables on the concentration of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGC) and the relationship between behavior and FGC. Environmental variables had similar effects on all three gorillas. Negative vigilance of visitors (NVV; staring, posturing, and charging at visitors) significantly increased in all subjects as environmental noise levels increased, and food-related behavior significantly decreased in all subjects as crowd size increased. Exhibit modifications had a number of positive effects on behavior. Notably, when privacy screens were used, NVV significantly decreased in two subjects. We found no significant effects of environmental variables on FGC. However, we did find significant relationships between behavior and FGC in one female. Specifically, her NVV was significantly higher one day before, and on the same day as, raised FGC. Also, hair plucking significantly increased in the two days following raised FGC. Overall, this study demonstrates how concurrent noninvasive fecal and behavioral monitoring can be used for gorilla welfare assessment. Zoo Biol 31:306–321, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.