CZAAWE Resource Article

Relationships between patterns of Fecal corticoid excretion and behavior, reproduction, and environmental factors in captive black (Diceros bicornis) and white (Ceratotherium simum) rhinoceros
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Zoo Biology
Abstract 10.1002/zoo.20050.abs Mortality is high in zoo-housed black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), and the reproductive rates of captive white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) are unsustainably low. To determine the possible role of stress in the causation of these problems, we analyzed weekly fecal samples collected for 1 year from black (10 males and 16 females) and white (six males and 13 females) rhinoceroses at 16 zoos for corticoid metabolite concentrations. Fecal corticoid profiles were examined in relation to behavior as rated by keepers in a questionnaire, luteal phase ovarian cycles of females (Brown et al., 2001), and socioenvironmental factors. We compared individual fecal corticoid profiles by examining hormone means and variability (i.e., standard deviation (SD) and coefficient of variation (CV)). For the black rhinos, higher mean corticoid concentrations were found at zoos where rhinos were maintained in enclosures that were exposed to the public around a greater portion of the perimeter. Higher variability in corticoid excretion was correlated with higher rates of fighting between breeding partners and higher institutional mortality rates. Black rhino pairs that were kept separated exhibited lower corticoid variability and less fighting activity when they were introduced during female estrous periods compared to pairs that were kept together every day. For white rhinos, significantly lower mean corticoids were found for individuals that rated higher on “friendliness to keeper.” Higher corticoid variability was found in noncycling as compared to cycling white rhino females. Noncycling females exhibited higher rates of stereotypic pacing and lower frequencies of olfactory behaviors. Interindividual differences in mean corticoids in both species appeared to be related to responsiveness to humans, whereas corticoid variability was related to intraspecific social relationships. More importantly, high corticoid variability appeared to be an indicator of chronic or “bad” stress, because of its association with potentially deleterious consequences in each species (i.e., fighting and mortality (black rhino), and reproductive acyclicity (white rhino)). Our results provide evidence that social stressors may cause chronic stress in black and white rhinos, and that this contributes to the captive-population sustainability problems observed in each species. Zoo Biol 0:1–18, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.