ABSTRACT: Koalas operate on a tight energy budget and, thus, may not always display behavioral avoidance reaction when placed in a stressful condition. We investigated the physiological response of captive koalas Phascolarctos cinereus in a conservation centre to the presence of tourists walking through their habitat. We compared, using animal-attached data-recorders, the electrocardiogram activity of female koalas in contact with tourists and in a human-free area. One of the koalas in the tourist zone presented elevated heart rate values and variability throughout the recording period. The remaining female in the exhibit area showed a higher field resting heart rates during the daytime than that in the isolated area. In the evening, heart rate profiles changed drastically and both the koalas in the exhibit and in the tourist-free zones displayed similar field resting heart rates, which were lower than those during the day. In parallel, the autonomic nervous systems of these two individuals evolved from sympathetic-dominant during the day to parasympathetic-dominant in the evening. Our results report ECG of free-living koalas for the first time. Although they are preliminary due to the difficulty of having sufficient samples of animals of the same sex and age, our results stress out the importance of studies investigating the physiological reaction of animals to tourists.
PLoS ONE 01/2009; 4(10):e7378. · 4.09 Impact Factor