Preprint Brief Report Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Physiological Stress in Rescued Wild Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) Being Held in a Rehabilitation Sanctuary: A Pilot Study

Version 1 : Received: 19 August 2021 / Approved: 20 August 2021 / Online: 20 August 2021 (08:52:07 CEST)

How to cite: Charalambous, R.; Simonato, T.; Peel, M.; Narayan, E. Physiological Stress in Rescued Wild Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) Being Held in a Rehabilitation Sanctuary: A Pilot Study. Preprints 2021, 2021080407 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202108.0407.v1). Charalambous, R.; Simonato, T.; Peel, M.; Narayan, E. Physiological Stress in Rescued Wild Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) Being Held in a Rehabilitation Sanctuary: A Pilot Study. Preprints 2021, 2021080407 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202108.0407.v1).

Abstract

Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are one of Australia's most charismatic native small marsupial species. Unfortunately, populations of koalas are rapidly declining throughout Australia and they continue to face increasing pressure from a changing ecosystem. Negative stimulants in the environment can elicit stress responses through activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Depending on the duration of the negative stimulant, the stress response can lead to either acute or chronic side effects, and is shown through the activation of the neuroendocrine stress system and the release of glucocorticoids (e.g., cortisol). Wild koalas entering clinical care face novel stressors that can be out of a wildlife carer's control. In this pilot study, we monitored physiological stress in three wild koalas at a wildlife rehabilitation centre in New South Wales, Australia. Acute and chronic stress was indexed non-invasively, with faecal samples taken to evaluate acute stress, and fur samples taken to evaluate chronic stress. Sampling occurred sporadically over four months, from the start of September 2018 to the end of December 2018. Results attempt to understand the stress response of koalas to negative stimulants in the environment by comparing faecal glucocorticoids on days where a known stressor was recorded with days where no known stressor was recorded. Furthermore, variations in faecal and fur glucocorticoids were compared between the three koalas in this study. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of stress tracking of wild rescued koalas in a sanctuary. We suggest that further monitoring of baseline, acute and chronic stress will be needed to better understand how koalas respond to negative stimulants associated with clinical care.

Keywords

Hair; HPA-axis; Koalas; Rehabilitation Sanctuary; Stress; Faeces; Glucocorticoids

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