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RobC

Measuring Elephant Stress through Faeces

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Conservation biologists, wildlife managers and zookeepers are becoming increasingly concerned over the well-being of free-roaming and domestic animals. It has become vital for these groups to understand how internal and external factors are disturbing animals. When an animal is stressed, it releases specific hormones which can be measured and monitored by researchers. These hormones can be measured through blood samples, although this direct method can cause the animal more stress in the process. Therefore, a popular method for measuring stress levels in animals is collecting fresh faecal samples and measuring the concentration of stress hormones within these samples.

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Researchers have collected faecal samples from elephants to measure the stress levels over a number of scenarios. African elephants have been found to be stressed from activities such as crop raiding, translocations, exposure to hunting events and exposure to intense fires. Increased stress levels have even been found in elephants experiencing thunderstorms or witnessing nearby fireworks.

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An increase in stress hormones is natural for elephants to enable individuals to cope with or adjust to abnormal or extreme situations in their environment. However, if this stress response is maintained at a high level (chronic stress), there can be broad implications on the survival and behavioural patterns shown by the elephants. This is why it is increasingly important for researchers to understand the state that their elephants are in, especially if the environment is being artificially manipulated.

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I didn't know that. Very interesting.Even I can see how that could be useful in many ways.

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I didn't know that. Very interesting.Even I can see how that could be useful in many ways.

 

Thanks Pault. It's a great tool for conservation biology and seeing what could be stressing the animals.

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Interesting to hear of this. Do you know if any research has been done to identify the possible impact on elephants, of off roading by safari vehicles?

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Interesting to hear of this. Do you know if any research has been done to identify the possible impact on elephants, of off roading by safari vehicles?

I am not aware of any research regarding elephant stress and off roading. There is a paper that shows the FGM levels of elephant back safari elephants slightly increase when with tourists in comparison to without tourists. But that's the only tourist-related paper I can think of.

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The measurement of stress hormones in faeces is, in my experience, most unlikely to be of conservation benefit. It is undoubtedly of value to the "scientists" and research students who employ the practice because it keeps them employed. It is another example of mis-applied welfare science which is generally employed by those with animal rights agendas.

 

I am in no way dismissing the significance of the effects of stress hormones in both humans and animals. Studies, for example, by Sapolsky on baboons are extremely revealing and interesting.

 

@@RobC correctly states that elevations in stress hormones associated with fight/flight responses are entirely natural and only of animal welfare significance when they become chronic and hence an indication of coping difficulty. Animals that are not coping will grow and breed poorly so little extra information of value will be derived by faecal analysis.

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Thanks for the response RobC.

I came across the paper you referred to, when I googled FGM to see exactly what it is!

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