Hambrecht, S., Oerke, A.‐K., Heistermann, M. et al. 2020. Diurnal variation of salivary cortisol in captive African elephants (Loxodonta africana) under routine management conditions and in relation to a translocation event. Zoo Biology 39(3), 186–196.

The present study assessed the diurnal variation in salivary cortisol in captive African elephants during routine management (baseline) and in relation to a potential stressor (translocation) to evaluate to what extent acute stress may affect diurnal cortisol patterns. Under baseline conditions, we collected morning and afternoon saliva samples of 10 animals (three zoos) on different days in two study periods (n  = 3–10 per animal, daytime and period). Under stress conditions, we sampled the transported cow (newcomer) and the two cows of the destination zoo before and after the transport in the morning and afternoon (n  = 3–9 per animal, daytime and transport phase), as well as after the first introduction of the newcomer to the bull (n  = 1 per animal). Cortisol was measured in unextracted samples by enzyme immunoassay. Under baseline conditions, we observed the expected diurnal variation with higher cortisol levels in the morning than in the afternoon. Under stress conditions, neither a significant difference between pre‐ and posttransport, nor between morning and afternoon levels was found. The percentage difference between morning and afternoon cortisol after the transport, however, was remarkably lower than before the transport in the newcomer potentially indicating a stress response to familiarization. Saliva samples taken immediately after the introduction of the newcomer to the bull revealed a marked cortisol increase. Our findings indicate that stressors may disturb the diurnal cortisol rhythm. Furthermore, provided that samples can be collected promptly, salivary cortisol is a useful minimally invasive measure of physiological stress in the African elephant.

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