Analyses of fecal and hair glucocorticoids to evaluate short- and long-term stress and recovery of Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) removed from bile farms in China

K.D. Malcolm, W.J. McShea, T.R. Van Deelen, H.J. Bacon, F. Liu, S. Putman, X. Zhu, J.L. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Demand for traditional Chinese medicines has given rise to the practice of maintaining Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) in captivity to harvest bile. We evaluated hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) activity in Asiatic black bears on a bile farm in China by measuring cortisol in hair. We also monitored hair and fecal glucocorticoid metabolites as bears acclimated to improved husbandry at the Animals Asia Foundation China Bear Rescue Center (CBRC) after removal from other bile farms. Fecal samples were collected twice weekly for ∼1 year, and hair was obtained from bears upon arrival at the CBRC and again ⩾163 days later. Paired hair samples showed declines in cortisol concentrations of 12–88% in 38 of 45 (84%, p < 0.001) bears after arrival and acclimation at the rehabilitation facility. Concentrations of cortisol in hair from bears on the bile farm were similar to initial concentrations upon arrival at the CBRC but were higher than those collected after bears had been at the CBRC for ⩾163 days. Fecal glucocorticoid concentrations varied across months and were highest in April and declined through December, possibly reflecting seasonal patterns, responses to the arrival and socialization of new bears at the CBRC, and/or annual metabolic change. Data from segmental analysis of hair supports the first of these explanations. Our findings indicate that bears produced elevated concentrations of glucocorticoids on bile farms, and that activity of the HPA axis declined following relocation. Thus, hair cortisol analyses are particularly well suited to long-term, retrospective assessments of glucocorticoids in ursids. By contrast, fecal measures were not clearly associated with rehabilitation, but rather reflected more subtle endocrine changes, possibly related to seasonality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-106
Number of pages10
JournalGeneral And Comparative Endocrinology
Volume185
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013

Keywords

  • Fecal glucocorticoids
  • Hair cortisol
  • Asiatic black bear
  • Ursus thibetanus
  • Bile farming
  • Stress

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