The relationship between physical injury, body condition and stress-related hormone concentrations in freeranging giraffes

A physiological stress response can be triggered by a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic stimuli, but minimal information is available about the physiological stress response related to pain in wildlife. Recently established techniques now allow the non-invasive measurement of faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) concentrations to monitor the physiological stress response in giraffe. We examined the consequences of injury of various severities and loss of body condition in relation to glucocorticoid output in free-ranging giraffes. Body condition (BC) was visually estimated based on the amount of fat and muscle covering the bones, using a species-specific scoring system (one – emaciated to eight – obese). An adapted animal trauma triage scoring system was also applied to evaluate the severity of injuries observed. Individual fGCM concentrations were determined to assess stress-related glucocorticoid output using an enzyme immunoassay technique, and compared with assigned BC and injury scoring. Significantly elevated fGCM levels were found in injured individuals that showed wounds with deep tissue involvement and/or poor BC, but not in individuals that showed superficial wounds. Responsible for the observed changes in fGCM levels may be a combination of differences in the severity of the injuries and the subsequent degree of pain associated with it, the influence of the stress response on the energetic condition, and the duration of the injuries. The results of this study are somewhat limited due to the small sample size, and therefore the effect of food intake on the body conditions cannot be controlled for. However, euthanasia is a common management tool used to prevent unnecessary suffering, nevertheless, especially in wild animals the severity of an injury and the associated pain perceived may be difficult to assess. Combining an assessment of BC and analysis of individual stress-hormone levels can help improve health assessments in free-ranging giraffes and thus assist management decisions.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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