Van Horn, R. C., Sutherland-Smith, M., Bracho Sarcos, A. E. et al. 2019. The Andean bear alopecia syndrome may be caused by social housing. Zoo Biology 38(5), 434-441.
The Andean bear alopecia syndrome is a progressive and chronic condition documented in ex situ populations. Recent advances focus on treating symptoms, not preventing future cases. We therefore explored the epidemiology of this syndrome through an analysis of husbandry and veterinary conditions of 63 Andean bears (26M:37F) housed in North and South American zoos and other ex situ circumstances. We had the most complete information for the North American population and found that 29% of females (n=24) were affected. No males (n=26) were affected. An analysis of generalized linear models indicated that three models were competitive in describing the occurrence of the condition (i.e., ∆AICc≤2): the model including only the individual's sex (χ2=13.41, df=1, p<.001), the model including both individual sex and social housing status (χ2=1.36, df=2, p<.001), and the model including both individual sex and the expression of stereotypical behaviors (χ2=13.82, df=2, p=.001). Stereotypical behaviors were common among both males (50%, n=26) and females (51.9%, n=27) whether or not they were affected, but the syndrome was seen only in females who had been socially housed. Therefore, we suggest that the Andean bear alopecia syndrome is a symptomatic response to the long-term social housing of bears that would otherwise not live socially. To prevent new cases, we recommend that female Andean bears be housed with adult conspecifics only when females choose to cohabitate.