DNA Damage as a Potential Non-Invasive Indicator of Welfare: A Preliminary Study in Zoo-Housed Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos horribilis)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Grace Fuller, Jennifer Hamilton, Stephanie Allard
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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Measures of oxidative stress have potential for integrating positive and negative life experiences into comprehensive cellular indicators of animal welfare. We explored this possibility when three adult grizzly bear brothers at the Detroit Zoo were temporarily moved to a smaller habitat while their primary home was expanded. We expected that the spatial compression and construction activity might be sources of stress. We observed increased social play and other affiliative behavior in the smaller habitat, and we used daily fecal samples (17 to 24 per bear) to examine whether concentrations of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGM) and 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG, a by-product of DNA damage) were correlated with social behavior. Our overall aim was to explore 8-OHdG as a potential indicator of welfare based on the prediction that 8-OHdG would be lower when more positive social interactions occurred. Concentrations of fecal 8-OHdG increased significantly with higher FGM concentrations, supporting a potential relationship between adrenal activity and rates of DNA damage. However, we found that on days when they engaged in higher rates of affiliative interactions, there were trends for 8-OHdG concentrations to increase for one bear and decrease for another, and no relationship for the third bear. These preliminary results should be interpreted with caution, but suggest a potential relationship between social behavior and 8-OHdG that is modulated by health, personality, or other individual factors. Further validation research is needed, but 8-OHdG may have promise as a non-invasive, cumulative indicator of animal welfare.


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