CZAAWE Resource Article

Terrestrial predator alarm vocalizations are a valid monitor of stress in captive brown capuchins (Cebus apella)
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Zoo Biology
Abstract 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2361(1999)18:4<295::AID-ZOO4>3.3.CO;2-X The vocal behavior of captive animals is increasingly exploited as an index of well-being. Here we show that the terrestrial predator alarm (TPA) vocalization, a robust and acoustically distinctive anti-predation vocal response present in many mammal and bird species, offers useful information on the relative well-being and stress levels of captive animals. In a 16-week experiment evaluating the effects of varying levels of physical environmental enrichment (control < toys < foraging box < foraging box and toys) in the cages of eight singly housed adult male brown capuchins, we quantified the 1) emission rate of TPAs, 2) proportions of normal and abnormal behavior sample intervals, and 3) fecal and plasma cortisol levels. Variation in TPA emission across the experimental conditions was significant. We found significant reductions in the mean TPA production rate by the group in the enriched (toys, foraging box, and foraging box and toys) compared to the control condition; pre- and post-experimental conditions, however, did not differ from the control condition. Mean TPA production by the group was also significantly positively correlated to mean group levels of fecal cortisol and proportion of abnormal behavior sample intervals, and significantly negatively correlated to the average proportion of normal behavior sample intervals in the group. Based on group means, plasma cortisol levels were positively, but not significantly, related to increasing TPA rate. At the level of the responses of an individual subject, however, the covariation between the vocal and non-vocal behavioral measures and the cortisol assays seldom attained significance. Nevertheless, the direction of the relationships among these parameters within individual subjects typically mirrored those correlations based on group means. At both the group mean and individual levels, our results are consistent with the interpretation that in conditions of low environmental enrichment the study subjects were more stressed, and therefore more reactive to the presence of a threatening terrestrial stimulus (human observer), than when in more enriched conditions. We suggest that protocols to evaluate the effectiveness of enrichment for captive species other than brown capuchins could also profitably exploit TPAs as a first-line monitor or as corroboratory evidence of current well-being. Zoo Biol 18:295–312, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.