We investigated the impact of enclosure size and animal density on behavior and adrenocortical secretion in Père David's deer in Dafeng Nature Reserve, China. From February 15 to April 16 in 2004, we conducted two experiments. First, we studied maintenance behavior and conflict behavior of Père David's deer stags in a large enclosure (200 ha) with low animal density (0.66 deer/ha) and a small display pen (0.75 ha) with high animal density (25.33 deer/ha). The maintenance behavior we recorded included standing, locomotion, foraging and rest. During the behavioral observations, we collected fresh voided fecal samples from the stags periodically, and analyzed the fecal cortisol concentrations in those samples using radioimmunoassay technique. Second, we monitored the fecal cortisol concentrations of one group of stags (12 deer lived in an enclosure of 100 ha) before and after transferred into a small pen (0.5 ha). We found that in the first experiment: (1) there were significant differences in standing and rest whereas no significant differences of locomotion and foraging between the free-ranging group and the display group; (2) frequency of conflict behavior in the display group was significantly higher than those in the free-ranging group; and (3) fecal cortisol concentration of the display group (326.17+/-16.98 ng/g dry feces) was significantly higher than that of the free-ranging group (268.98+/-15.21 ng/g dry feces). In the second experiment, there was no significant difference of the fecal cortisol concentrations among sampling days, but the mean fecal cortisol concentration of the day after transferring (337.46+/-17.88 ng/g dry feces) was significantly higher than that of the day before transferring (248.44+/-7.99 ng/g dry feces). Comparison with published findings, our results indicated that enclosure size and animal density affect not only behaviors, but also adrenocortical secretion in Père David's deer. Small living space with high animal density may impose physiological stress to captive Père David's deer. Moreover, long-term physiological stress and increase of conflict behavior may subsequently affect survival and reproduction of the deer.
Schwarzenberger, F., Morrow, C. J., Penfold, L. M., Wolfe, B. a, Aguilera, G., Rabadan-Diehl, C., … Fleming, M. W. (2013). Intest. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 34(2), 202–9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9080661