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Open AccessArticle

Faecal Glucocorticoid Metabolites and H/L Ratio Are Related Markers of Stress in Semi-Captive Asian Timber Elephants

1
Department of Biology, University of Turku, FIN-20014 Turku, Finland
2
Myanma Timber Enterprise, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, Gyogone Forest Compound, Bayint Naung Road, Insein Township, Yangon, Myanmar
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Animals 2020, 10(1), 94; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010094
Received: 30 November 2019 / Revised: 21 December 2019 / Accepted: 3 January 2020 / Published: 6 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Captive Elephant Welfare and Behaviour)
Animals are kept in captivity for various reasons worldwide. Throughout its range countries, the Asian elephant is used for various purposes, with a significant proportion of the remaining population working as draft and transport animals in the timber industry. However, captivity can also lead to compromises in welfare that need to be quantified for successful intervention. A key way of assessing an animal’s well-being in wildlife and zoo biology is to measure its stress. Previous studies have found positive, negative, or no relationship between two commonly used measures of stress: stress hormones and the ratio of two types of white blood cells—heterophils to lymphocytes. Our study is one of the first to show a positive and consistent link between these two measures in semi-captive Asian elephants from Myanmar, irrespective of sex, age, or environmental context. Our results show that using the heterophil/lymphocyte ratio from blood smears on-site may offer a potentially cheaper and faster way to determine stress than measuring faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations in the laboratory.
Animals are kept in captivity for various reasons, but species with a slower pace of life may adapt to captive environments less easily, leading to welfare concerns and the need to assess stress reliably in order to develop effective interventions. Our aim was to assess welfare of semi-captive timber elephants from Myanmar by investigating the relationship between two physiological markers of stress commonly used as proxies for welfare, faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations (FGM) and heterophil/lymphocyte ratios (H/L), and link these measures to changes in body condition (determined by body weight). We further assessed how robustly these two markers of stress performed in animals of different age or sex, or in different ecological contexts. We measured FGM concentrations and H/L ratios between 2016 and 2018 from 316 samples of 75 females and 49 males ranging in age from 4 to 68. We found a positive and consistent link between FGMs and H/L ratios in Asian elephants, irrespective of their sex, age, or ecological context. Our results will help to inform managers of (semi-) captive elephants about using heterophil/lymphocyte ratio data from blood smears on site as a potentially cheaper and faster alternative to determining stress than measuring faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations in the laboratory. View Full-Text
Keywords: Elephas maximus; cortisol; faeces; heterophils; lymphocytes; welfare Elephas maximus; cortisol; faeces; heterophils; lymphocytes; welfare
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Seltmann, M.W.; Ukonaho, S.; Reichert, S.; Dos Santos, D.; Nyein, U.K.; Htut, W.; Lummaa, V. Faecal Glucocorticoid Metabolites and H/L Ratio Are Related Markers of Stress in Semi-Captive Asian Timber Elephants. Animals 2020, 10, 94.

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