African painted dogs in exhibit

Measuring Stress in Wild Species

African painted dog in exhibit

Purpose

Zoo scientists are improving animal care and conservation around the globe by monitoring wildlife stress hormones using non-invasive methods.

About

Animals experience stress just like people. New living situations, illness, aging, and other life experiences are all natural events that can cause stress. Lincoln Park Zoo scientists are particularly interested in identifying ongoing situations that lead to chronic stress.

But while people can share when they’re experiencing stress, animals often hide their symptoms. Caregivers may observe changes in behavior, but it’s difficult to objectively know if an individual animal is experiencing stress.

By measuring the stress-related hormones in feces, urine, hair, blood, and saliva samples, endocrinologists are able to determine an animal’s internal stress levels. Feces, which is abundant and can be collected frequently without disturbing the animal, is especially advantageous.

Using feces, zoo scientists are able to establish unique baseline stress levels that help determine how changes in an animal’s environment (diet, habitat, light cycle, social group, enrichment, etc) impact its welfare. This information is vital for improving animal care and conservation both at Lincoln Park Zoo and around the globe.

Staff

Rachel Santymire, Ph.D.
Director
Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology
Christopher J. Schell, Ph.D.
Adjunct Scientist
Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology; Urban Wildlife Institute
Michelle L. Rafacz, Ph.D.
Adjunct Scientist
Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology

Contributors

Katie Fowler, M.S.