Measuring Stress in Wild Species

The African wild dogs at Regenstein African Journey are among the species whose stress levels are monitored to improve conservation and care.

Non-Invasive Studies of Stress Hormones

Animals experience stress just as people do. New living situations, illness, aging and other life events can cause stress—both good and bad.

But while people can share when they’re experiencing stress, animals are prone to hiding it. Caregivers may observe changes in behavior, but it’s difficult to objectively know if animals are experiencing stress, in zoos and in the wild.

Endocrinologists can measure animal stress, though, using feces, urine, hair, blood or saliva to pinpoint levels of stress-related hormones. Feces offer the advantage of being abundant and non-invasive; they can be collected daily without disturbing wildlife.

By collecting feces from a range of species, zoo scientists are able to establish baseline stress levels—and determine how changes in the animal’s environment, social group or other factors impact stress levels. This information is vital for improving animal care and conservation both at Lincoln Park Zoo and around the globe.


Rachel Santymire, Ph.D., is director of Lincoln Park Zoo's Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology

Rachel Santymire, Ph.D.
Director, Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology

Matthew Heintz, Ph.D., is Lincoln Park Zoo's welfare monitoring post-doctoral fellow.

Matthew Heintz, Ph.D.
Welfare Monitoring Postdoctoral Fellow

Christopher Schell is a research associate at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Christopher Schell
Research Associate, Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology

Katie Fowler, M.S. is an endocrinology laboratory associate in Lincoln Park Zoo’s Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology.

Katie Fowler
Endocrinology Laboratory Associate

Michelle Rafacz, Ph.D., is an adjunct scientist with Lincoln Park Zoo's Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology

Michelle Rafacz, Ph.D.
Adjunct Scientist
Assistant Professor of Biology, Columbia College

Carson Murray, Ph.D.
Adjunct Scientist
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, The George Washington University

Jennifer Howell-Stephens, Ph.D.
Adjunct Scientist


Learn More

Fecal sample storage boxes at Lincoln Park Zoo's Davee Center for Endocrinology and Epidemiology  

Where Does All the Poop Go?
Not all of the poop produced by the zoo’s animals gets pitched. Fecal samples are also repurposed for hormonal analysis.


Hormone Detectives
Studying the hormones of animals can inform a wide array of researchers' decisions, including breeding, stress and introductions. Learn more about this vital information here.