Kibble diet is associated with higher faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations in zoo-managed red wolves (Canis rufus)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Morgan Bragg, Carly R Muletz-Wolz, Nucharin Songsasen, Elizabeth W Freeman
Conservation Physiology
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The red wolf (Canis rufus) is a critically endangered canid that exists solely because of the establishment of the ex situ population in the late 1980s. Yet, the population under human care suffers from gastrointestinal (GI) disease in captivity. While the cause of GI disease is unknown, it is speculated that environmental factors can influence GI health of zoo-managed red wolves. The goal of the present study was to investigate the relationship between faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) concentrations, a biomarker for stress, and environmental factors for zoo-managed red wolves. Faecal samples were collected from 14 adult wolves three times a week for 5 to 12 months. Using a single-antibody cortisol enzyme immunoassay, FGM concentrations were quantified. Environmental factors were collected for each participating wolf on dietary type, sex, type of public access to enclosure, density (enclosure size [ft2]/number of wolves living in enclosure) and a monthly average status of GI health. Red wolves that ate a commercial kibble diet had both higher FGM concentrations over time and higher baseline FGM concentrations compared to individuals that received commercial kibble mixed with commercial meat. Density, public access or GI health were not related to FGM concentration; however, males had higher baseline FGM concentrations compared to female red wolves. Our findings suggest that management conditions, particularly diet, can strongly influence FGM concentration in the zoo-managed red wolf population. Findings from this study highlight the importance of management choices on individual welfare. Maintaining a healthy captive population of red wolves is imperative for the persistence of the species, including successful future reintroductions.


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