Patterns of faecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels in captive roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) in relation to reproductive status and season
Populations of roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) in southern Africa have experienced a drastic decline over the past few decades and this situation has led to the development of intensive breeding programmes to support conservation efforts. However, little is known about related welfare aspects including stress-related physiological biomarkers. The present study set out to establish a non-invasive method to monitor faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) concentrations as a measure of stress and determine fGCM concentrations in relation to male reproductive activity and female reproductive status in the roan antelope. An adrenocorticotrophic hormone challenge was performed using two adult roan antelope (one male and one female) at Lapalala Wilderness Nature Reserve, South Africa, to determine the suitability of five enzyme immunoassays (EIA) for monitoring adrenocortical function in H. equinus. An 11-oxoaetiocholanolone I EIA detecting 11,17 dioxoandrostanes performed best showing 17-20 folds increases in fGCM concentrations after 12h-17h post-injection. The identified EIA was then used to monitor fGCM concentrations during active and non-active reproductive periods in males (n=3), and during periods of lactation, mating, gestation, and postpartum in females (n=18). Males showed an overall 80% increase in fGCM concentrations when reproductively active and females showed a progressively significant increase in fGCM levels throughout pregnancy, with overall fGCM concentrations being 1.5- and 2.6-fold higher than the respective fGCM concentrations during periods of lactation and mating. Furthermore, fGCM concentrations remained above baseline for up to 21 days post-partum. A correlation between ecological parameters (rainfall and temperature) and fGCM concentrations revealed elevated fGCM concentrations during the dry season for males and females. The non-invasive method validated in this study provides a valuable tool to quantify stress-related biomarkers in roan antelope, and findings can be used to support management decisions in conservation breeding facilities.