Fecal steroid analysis of female giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) reproductive condition and the impact of endocrine status on daily time budgets

Gestation and lactation can impose substantial energetic costs on female mammals. We developed a non-invasive means to determine reproductive condition in female giraffe using fecal steroid analysis. Giraffe may be especially challenged during their reproductive cycle because of two characteristics: they are impregnated while lactating and they do not breed seasonally. We studied the social behavior and endocrinology of seven female giraffe in a large naturalistic outdoor enclosure in order to chart connections between maternal physiology and behavior across the reproductive cycle. We found that giraffe gestation averages 448 days among females producing a calf that survived, with fecal pregnane concentrations reaching a zenith during the last trimester of pregnancy. Resumption of ovarian cyclicity following parturition was accelerated after neonatal calf mortality, but ovarian cycles resumed as early as 39 days postparturition while nursing. Although time spent feeding was unaffected by reproductive state, pregnant females significantly reduced time allocated to social behavior and had a tendency to locomote less than when cycling or acyclic. We suggest that modifications in foraging strategies as a function of reproductive state among wild giraffe derive from antipredator activity rather than from metabolic demands. Female giraffe probably cope with simultaneous lactation and gestation by producing high quality milk for neonatal calves commensurate with slow fetal growth and accelerating fetal growth simultaneous with weaning of nursing calves.

Last Updated
January 26, 2021
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