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Wild badgers (Meles meles) in Wytham woods, Oxfordshire, are routinely trapped, transported to a central field laboratory, studied and released as part of an on-going population study. These procedures have been carefully developed to minimise impact on the badgers' welfare;
however they are potentially stressful, and, as part of our on-going welfare refinements, and our exploration to develop methods for quantifying stress in wild mammals, we studied the effects of transport stress on neutrophil activation in wild trapped badgers. Blood samples were obtained
from 28 badgers. We compared three transport regimes: transported (n = 9), transported and rested for at least 30 mins (n = 11), and not transported (n = 8). Total and differential white cell counts were carried out and neutrophil activation was measured by the nitroblue tetrazolium test.
Our goal was primarily to validate neutrophil activity as an indicator of stress, on the basis that the transport treatment was expected to be more stressful than the non-transport treatment. There were significant increases in % activated circulating neutrophils in response to transport.
This study supports the proposition that stress affects circulating neutrophil numbers and the state of their activation, as determined by the nitroblue tetrazolium reduction assay, and therefore adds weight to the idea that neutrophil activation is a potential measure of stress in wild animals.