Non-invasive monitoring of stress in wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in Peninsular Malaysia

Wong, E.P. (2018) Non-invasive monitoring of stress in wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in Peninsular Malaysia. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Translocation of wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) is used extensively to mitigate human-elephant conflict (HEC) in Peninsular Malaysia since 1974. Very little is known about the fate of translocated elephants after relocation due to challenges in observing elephants in the dense rainforest. Advances in wildlife endocrinology suggest that faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGCM) can be used to study adrenal activity remotely, to assess the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis response towards stressors.

The aim is to assess the impact of translocation on wild Asian elephants in Peninsular Malaysia using faecal endocrinology and GPS technology. The specific objectives are: (i) adapting hormone sampling methods for use under tropical field conditions, (ii) comparing fGCM concentrations between translocated and local resident elephants using enzyme immunoassay, and (iii) quantifying gastrointestinal parasite eggs and microflora ciliates in faecal samples to detect signs of immunosuppression.

We found that Asian elephant’s fGCM (80 dungpiles, 685 subsamples) are stable up to eight hours in the field. From the monitoring of wild elephants at the release sites, between two months up to a year, translocated elephants (N=5) had lower fGCM concentrations in comparison to local resident elephants (N=4; Linear Mixed Models: t=-2.77, df=7.09, P=0.027). There were no differences in gastrointestinal parasite egg counts (P>0.05) or microflora ciliate counts (P>0.05) between translocated and local resident elephants.

In conclusion, translocation does affect elephant physiology but this is in the opposite direction from that expected – a prolonged decrease rather than increase of adrenal activity. It is unknown if these conditions could cause immunosuppression, but it could adversely affect stress response and health of the elephant (e.g. adrenal insufficiency, chronic fatigue or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). When assessing HEC mitigation, conservation authorities and other stakeholders need to consider that translocation may not be the best solution for HEC, as it will have long-term consequences on elephants’ health.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Campos-Arceiz, A.
Yon, L.
McGowan, S.
Keywords: Elephas maximus, Asian elephant, faecal glucocorticoid metabolites, stress physiology
Subjects: Q Science > QP Physiology > QP1 Physiology (General) including influence of the environment
Faculties/Schools: University of Nottingham, Malaysia > Faculty of Science and Engineering — Science > School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences
Item ID: 47810
Depositing User: WONG, EE PHIN
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2018 12:11
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2018 16:17

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