Physical and Physiological Indicators of Welfare in Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus) Serving as Ambassador Animals

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
David M Powell, Corinne P Kozlowski, John Clark, Alice Seyfried, Eli Baskir, Ashley D Franklin
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Special encounters that allow contact between animals and guests are common in zoos and aquariums. Visitors to the Saint Louis Zoo may touch guinea pigs serving as ambassador animals. We evaluated two welfare indicators in ambassador guinea pigs by comparing glucocorticoid levels and body weights between periods when guinea pigs lived in a habitat accessible to the public and while off exhibit. Mean glucocorticoid levels did not differ between sexes or between on- and off-exhibit periods. There was significant individual variation, and females demonstrated greater variation than males. While on exhibit, glucocorticoid levels slightly but significantly increased in males and decreased in females. Moving guinea pigs between habitats only elicited a significant glucocorticoid response when females were moved off exhibit. Temporary closures of the exhibit had no effect on glucocorticoid levels in either sex. Analyses of the impact of handling rates on males found no impact on glucocorticoid levels. Guinea pigs’ body weights were lower while on exhibit. We conclude that guinea pigs serving as ambassador animals at the Saint Louis Zoo demonstrate comparable physiological profiles while on and off exhibit and, when used in a rotational schedule, are a suitable species for animal encounters involving contact with the public.


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