Influence of Environmental Factors on Red Panda Welfare



Conrad, Monika

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Animals in zoological institutions are exposed to a multitude of environmental elements daily. Understanding which factors may invoke a stress response and be indicators of negative well-being is important to improve captive management of species and enhance reproductive success. Red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) are an endangered species facing multiple threats in the wild including habitat destruction, forest fragmentation and poaching. Captive populations are vital for longevity of the species, as wild populations continue to decline. Red pandas are commonly housed in zoos across the United States, yet growth of the ex-situ population is hindered by high cub mortality. To assess their well-being, behavioral and physiological responses of red pandas were assessed in relation to climate (temperature, humidity and windspeed), zoo visitors, and noise. From June 2018 to June 2019, behavioral observations were conducted 1-2 times per week between 0800 and 1000 h on red pandas housed at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute. Fecal samples were collected 3-7 days per week from ten individuals housed at four U.S. zoos. Fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGM) were measured with a corticosterone enzyme immunoassay and then analyzed in relation to environmental conditions, such as ambient temperature and ambient noise. Increased ambient temperature was associated with decreased activity and increased coping behaviors, including panting and straddle. Month of the year and the number of zoo visitors from the previous day also affected fGM concentrations such that red pandas had lower glucocorticoid concentrations May through August compared to other months. Increased zoo visitor numbers led to lower fGM concentrations the following day. Results suggest that environmental temperature impacts red panda behavior and the species displays seasonal variability in fecal glucocorticoid metabolites. Findings from the study may prove useful in improving ex-situ management and enhancing welfare by providing evidence that red pandas show the effects of temperature starting at 20℃, which is lower than threshold temperatures described in current care manual recommendations.



Red panda, Animal behavior, Fecal glucocorticoid, Welfare, Stress, Zoo