Comparing Space Use and Fecal Glucocorticoid Concentrations during and after the COVID-19 Closure to Investigate Visitor Effects in Multiple Species
Year of Publication:
|Ashley N. Edes, Nathan C. Liu, Eli Baskir, Karen L. Bauman, Corinne P. Kozlowski, Helen L. Clawitter, David M. Powell
|Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
|banteng, behavior, cortisol, gorillas, grizzly bears, physiology, polar bears, zoo research
We used the COVID-19 pandemic closure at the Saint Louis Zoo to examine visitor effects on space use and glucocorticoid levels in banteng, grizzly bears, polar bears, and western lowland gorillas. The study was divided into four six-week phases: closure in spring 2020, reopening in summer 2020, fall 2020, and spring 2021 as a seasonal comparison. Space use data were collected using video, and fecal samples were assayed for glucocorticoids. Generalized linear models were used to examine differences in zone occupancy and glucocorticoids between phases. The banteng spent more time near visitors, and glucocorticoids were only temporarily elevated in two of five animals when visitors returned. The grizzly bears spent more time in their habitat than in the den, and the polar bear spent more time near viewing areas after visitors returned. Glucocorticoids did not differ significantly between the closure and reopening for any bears. The gorillas spent less time close to visitors immediately after reopening but this effect waned by fall; glucocorticoid data were not available. Overall, based on space use and glucocorticoid levels, we suggest visitor effects on the gorillas are neutral, on the grizzly bears are neutral or positive, and are positive on the banteng and polar bear.