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Article << Previous     |         Contents Vol 53(5)

Adaptation of wild-caught Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) to captivity: evidence from physical parameters and plasma cortisol concentrations

Susan M. Jones A B, Tammy J. Lockhart A, Randolph W. Rose A

A School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 5, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.
B Corresponding author. Email: s.m.jones@utas.edu.au
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This study assessed whether capture and transferral into captivity represents a significant stressor to Tasmanian devils. Four male and four female devils were captured in the wild and housed for 6 months in captivity in male–female pairs. Blood samples were collected for cortisol assay at capture, every 24 h for the first 4 days, and then monthly; body weight and tail width were monitored weekly. In the males, mean plasma cortisol concentrations were highest (49 ± 9.19 ng mL–1) at the time of initial capture; cortisol concentrations declined significantly after 48 h in captivity (9.2 ± 5.96 ng mL–1) and did not change significantly over the months in captivity. Females exhibited a different pattern: plasma cortisol concentrations were highest (74.0 ± 3.24 ng mL–1) in the initial sample, but mean concentrations remained elevated in samples taken at 24, 48 and 96 h after initial capture, and did not exhibit a significant decline (to 20.65 ± 8.95 ng mL–1) until 4 weeks after capture. During the first 2 months in captivity, the male devils lost ~8.7% of their original body weight, and females lost 10.6% during this same period. However, body weights then rose during the rest of the experiment. These results suggest that Tasmanian devils experience elevated plasma cortisol concentrations in response to capture and transfer into captivity. However, these high concentrations are not maintained during 6 months in captivity, suggesting that the animals are not chronically stressed.

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