Adrenocorticotrophin-induced stress response in captive vicunas (Vicugna vicugna) in the Andes of Chile
The vicuna is mainly used in two ways: wild captured, shorn and returned to the wild; or wild captured and maintained in captivity as part of a programme of sustainable use in the Andes of South America. Farming of wild vicunas has hitherto involved no assessment of their welfare. In this study we measured a set of basic blood parameters in order to characterise baseline values in captivity, and we then characterised adrenal cortical responsiveness using an ACTH challenge. The ACTH challenge is widely used for assessing neuroendocrine responses to stress and is now increasingly being applied to studies of wild animals' welfare. Five male vicunas were injected with exogenous ACTH and their responses compared with those of a control group injected with placebo. Behavioural and haematological changes were monitored. Injection of ACTH produced a 4.5-fold increase in cortisol concentration within 1 h. Total white blood cell count almost doubled in less than 5 h. The neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio also changed, with a decrease in lymphocytes and an increase in neutrophils, suggesting that the neutrophil:lymphocyte ratio was affected by the ACTH challenge. Packed cell volume increased from 40% to 44%. Observations of individual vicunas during sampling revealed no discernible behavioural differences between treated and control animals; however, animals that had higher initial baseline cortisol concentration made more attempts to escape, and vocalised more during handling, regardless of whether they were treated with ACTH or placebo. The results reveal the different blood parameter levels associated with stress in different species and highlight the hazard of interpreting stress levels in one species on the basis of measures calibrated in another. We provide calibrated reference values for future studies of stress in vicunas.
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