Presentation Title

Assessment of the relationship between browsing and cortisol levels in zoo-managed African elephants (Loxodonta africana)

Advisor Information

James Wilson, PhD

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Start Date

26-3-2021 12:00 AM

End Date

26-3-2021 12:00 AM

Abstract

This project examines the relationship between the presence of browse (trees, branches, etc.) and cortisol levels in African elephants (Loxodonta africana) at the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha, NE and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, KS. Both herds have comparable histories, but each zoo provides a different environment and thus different stressors. Acute stress can play an important role in hormonal and behavioral functions, but chronic stress can lead to prolonged health concerns. Elephants in zoos may be exposed to unavoidable stressors (e.g., construction) which can cause chronically high cortisol levels over time. The physiological response to browsing is important to consider because elephants spend the majority of their activity budget foraging for food. For the duration of this project, fecal samples were collected twice a week to measure cortisol levels and browse was given to the elephants as normally available. A daily "Browse Log" was kept by zookeepers to examine the relationship between browse availability and fecal cortisol levels. It is hypothesized that the presence of browse will be associated with lower cortisol levels. The significance of this research is to help zoos understand how giving browse affects African elephants on the physiological level. There is already some research on the benefits of giving browse to zoo-managed elephants, but there is very little research on how giving browse specifically impacts their cortisol levels.

Comments

I am the graduate teacher assistant for Vertebrate Zoology on Friday afternoons from 1pm-4pm.

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Mar 26th, 12:00 AM Mar 26th, 12:00 AM

Assessment of the relationship between browsing and cortisol levels in zoo-managed African elephants (Loxodonta africana)

This project examines the relationship between the presence of browse (trees, branches, etc.) and cortisol levels in African elephants (Loxodonta africana) at the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha, NE and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, KS. Both herds have comparable histories, but each zoo provides a different environment and thus different stressors. Acute stress can play an important role in hormonal and behavioral functions, but chronic stress can lead to prolonged health concerns. Elephants in zoos may be exposed to unavoidable stressors (e.g., construction) which can cause chronically high cortisol levels over time. The physiological response to browsing is important to consider because elephants spend the majority of their activity budget foraging for food. For the duration of this project, fecal samples were collected twice a week to measure cortisol levels and browse was given to the elephants as normally available. A daily "Browse Log" was kept by zookeepers to examine the relationship between browse availability and fecal cortisol levels. It is hypothesized that the presence of browse will be associated with lower cortisol levels. The significance of this research is to help zoos understand how giving browse affects African elephants on the physiological level. There is already some research on the benefits of giving browse to zoo-managed elephants, but there is very little research on how giving browse specifically impacts their cortisol levels.