Effect of housing and environmental enrichment on adrenocortical activity, behavior and reproductive cyclicity in the female tigrina (Leopardus tigrinus) and margay (Leopardus wiedii).

Zoo Biol. 26(6):441-60


The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of different captive housing conditions on reproductive cyclicity and adrenocortical activity in adult females of two small‐sized felid species, the tigrina (Leopardus tigrinus; n = 3) and margay (Leopardus wiedii; n = 2). Females were housed as singletons and subjected to three enclosure conditions over successive time periods: Phase I—large, enriched enclosures for 3 months; Phase II—small, empty enclosures for 5.5 months; Phase III—the same small enclosures enriched with branches and nest boxes for 6.5 months. Fecal samples were collected five times weekly throughout the study for analysis of progestagen, estrogen, and corticoid metabolites. On the basis of observed behaviors, stereotypic pacing was more frequent before feeding for all cats, regardless of enclosure conditions. Both species displayed a bimodal activity pattern, with peaks occurring at nightfall and dawn. All animals exhibited agitated behavior, characterized by a high frequency and duration of stereotypic pacing, primarily during the first 3 days after moving to the small empty enclosures. On the basis of hormonal analyses, ovarian follicular activity decreased and corticoid concentrations increased in tigrinas after transfer to the small barren cages compared to the patterns observed in the initial large, enriched enclosures. Corticoid concentrations in tigrinas then declined after small cage enrichment. Margay females exhibited increased corticoid excretion during Phases II and III, but in contrast to tigrinas, concentrations remained high even after cage enrichment. It was further showed that enriching the small enclosures was insufficient to reestablish normal ovarian activity within the time frame of the study for both species. In summary, margay and tigrina females exhibited distinct elevations in corticoid concentrations after transfer from large enriched enclosures to smaller barren cages that corresponded with agitated behavior, especially immediately after transfer. Fecal corticoid concentrations were reduced after cage enrichment in tigrinas, but not in margays. Although only a few individuals were evaluated, data suggest there may be species differences in response to captive environmental conditions. Overall results emphasize the importance of enclosure dimensions and enrichment when designing species appropriate environments for improving the health and reproductive fitness of threatened species. 


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