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Open AccessArticle

Effect of Tourist Activities on Fecal and Salivary Glucocorticoids and Immunoglobulin A in Female Captive Asian Elephants in Thailand

1
Master’s Degree Program in Veterinary Science, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
2
Center of Elephant and Wildlife Research, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
3
Center for Species Survival, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Front Royal, VA 22630, USA
4
Faculty of VeterinaryMedicine and Applied Zoology, HRH Princess Chulabhorn College of Medical Science, Chulabhorn Royal Academy, Lak Si, Bangkok 10210, Thailand
5
Department of Food Animal Clinic, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
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Veterinary Public Health Centre and Food Safety for Asia Pacific (VPHCAP), Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
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Department of Clinical Sciences and Services, The Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead Lane, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA, UK
8
Department of Companion Animal and Wildlife Clinics, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
9
Department of Veterinary Bioscience and Veterinary Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
10
North of England Zoological Society, Chester Zoo, Upton-by-Chester, Chester CH2 1LH, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(10), 1928; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10101928
Received: 2 September 2020 / Revised: 28 September 2020 / Accepted: 15 October 2020 / Published: 21 October 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Wildlife)
How tourist camp activities affect individual elephant welfare is an important and highly debated topic. Saliva and fecal samples were collected monthly for 1 year from 44 female Asian elephants that participated in three programs (saddle-, bareback-, or no-riding), and analyzed for glucocorticoids (GC) and immunoglobulin A (IgA). The hypothesis was that better welfare would be associated with low GC and high IgA concentrations. Both biomarkers showed significant variation with respect to camp size, riding activities, tourist-to-elephant ratios and seasonality, but not always consistently between feces and saliva, and not always in the predicted direction. However, there was no clear indication that riding per se negatively affected these two biomarkers. The lack of consistent responses highlights the difficulty in interpreting physiological data in relation to management factors, and suggests more work is needed to differentiate between potential chronic (feces) and acute (saliva) responses.
Asian elephants have been an important part of wildlife ecotourism in Thailand for over two decades. Elephants in tourist camps are exposed to a variety of management styles and daily activities that can potentially affect health and welfare. This study investigated relationships between a novel welfare biomarker, immunoglobulin A (IgA), and daily camp activities, and compared results to glucocorticoid (GC) measures. Often no-riding camps are portrayed as providing better welfare than camps that offer riding. Therefore, we predicted that elephants at no-riding camps would have lower GC and higher IgA concentrations, and a low GC/IgA ratio. Forty-four female elephants from six elephant camps were divided into three groups based on riding activities: saddle-riding, bareback-riding, and no-riding. Fecal and salivary samples were collected monthly for 1 year along with evaluations of body condition, foot health, and wounding. Camp environment and management varied among camps, although the major difference was in riding activities. Concentrations of GCs and IgA varied among the working groups, but not always consistently between sample matrices. Overall fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations were lowest in the saddle-riding group. Only in one bareback-riding camp did the elephants exhibit a potentially positive welfare response with a low GC/IgA ratio over time. Other results varied between the two biomarkers, with considerable variability across camps, suggesting there is more to good welfare than whether elephants participate in riding or not. Several other human-induced stressors, like chaining, ankus use, and limited social opportunities are likely to be impacting well-being and should be considered to ensure management practices meet physical and psychological welfare needs. View Full-Text
Keywords: Asian elephant; immunoglobulin A; glucocorticoids; saliva; feces; tourism; welfare Asian elephant; immunoglobulin A; glucocorticoids; saliva; feces; tourism; welfare
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MDPI and ACS Style

Kosaruk, W.; Brown, J.L.; Plangsangmas, T.; Towiboon, P.; Punyapornwithaya, V.; Silva-Fletcher, A.; Thitaram, C.; Khonmee, J.; Edwards, K.L.; Somgird, C. Effect of Tourist Activities on Fecal and Salivary Glucocorticoids and Immunoglobulin A in Female Captive Asian Elephants in Thailand. Animals 2020, 10, 1928.

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