Brown, M. E., Torkelson, M. R., Olsen, G. H. et al. 2020. Comparison of fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations in hand‐ versus parent‐reared whooping cranes (Grus americana). Zoo Biology 39(4), 276–280.
Endangered whooping cranes (Grus americana ) have been produced in captivity for reintroduction programs since the 1980s, using techniques such as artificial insemination, multiple clutching, and captive‐rearing to speed recovery efforts. Chicks are often hand‐reared (HR) by caretakers in crane costumes, socialized into groups and released together, unlike parent‐reared (PR) cranes that are raised individually by a male/female crane pair and released singly. HR cranes historically exhibit greater morbidity rates during development than PR cranes, involving musculoskeletal and respiratory system disease, among others. We hypothesized that HR crane chicks exhibit a higher baseline fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) concentrations during the development compared with PR chicks. Fecal samples were collected between 15 and 70 days of age from HR (n = 15) and PR (n = 8) chicks to test for differences in FGM concentrations using a radioimmunoassay technique following ethanol extraction for steroids. Linear mixed model analysis suggests increasing age of the chick was associated with an increase in FGM (p < .001). Analysis also supported the interaction between rearing strategy and sex of the crane chick (p < .01). Female PR chicks had greater FGM concentrations than all other groups (PR male, p < .01; HR female, p < .001; and HR male, p < .001). This result suggests that there may be an effect of rearing strategy on stress physiology of whooping crane chicks, especially among females. Further research is needed to investigate whether the FGM concentrations are reflective of true differences in stress physiology of young cranes and whether this may impact health and conservation success.