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Keywords:

  • behavior;
  • estrus;
  • aggression;
  • fecal hormones;
  • reproductive suppression;
  • male influence

Abstract

We examined the potential influences of existing social housing arrangements on captive sun bear female reproductive cycling. Three social conditions were studied: 1.2, 1.1, and 0.2. Fecal hormone metabolites of total estrogens, progestins and glucocorticoids were compared between the three social conditions and were analyzed along with vaginal cytology data in individuals that experienced a change in social condition. Behavioral data were collected on females in each of the social conditions and summarized into agonistic, affiliative and sexual categories. Results indicated that sun bears are spontaneous ovulators, but that the presence of a male does influence hormone metabolite concentrations and cytological profiles. Male presence was also associated with a greater proportion of females cycling. In most female pairs, only one female cycled, typically the younger, subordinate female. The presence of a second female appeared to have a suppressive influence on both cycling and mating behavior. Agonistic behavior and associated stress may be a mechanism for lowering progesterone. In contrast, high estrogen levels were associated with low levels of agonistic interactions; thus, reproductive cycle monitoring could facilitate social introductions with either sex. Females in 1.2 social groupings had significantly higher GC metabolite concentrations and agonistic behavior, suggesting that 1.2 social groupings may not be advisable for captive breeding programs. Data from the North American historical captive population indicate that at most 32% of all sun bear pairs and only 18.5% of females have successfully reproduced. Implications of these social and reproductive patterns for captive management are discussed. Zoo Biol. 32:581–591, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals Inc.