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The Elephant who Finally Crossed the Road – Significant Life Events Reflected in Faecal Hormone Metabolites of a Wild Asian Elephant



We used GPS-telemetry and faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGCM) to monitor a wild translocated female elephant in rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. The elephant was GPS-tagged at translocation and her fGCM monitored within 11–22 months after translocation. The lowest fGCM concentrations were observed at the beginning of hormone monitoring, when she exhibited unusual movement patterns, moving repetitively alongside a major road without crossing it. Around the 16th month after translocation, the elephant delivered a calf and in the 18th month she crossed the road. In this period, she exhibited increased fGCM concentrations, presumably indicating response to challenging life events
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The Elephant who Finally Crossed the Road – Significant Life Events Reflected
in Faecal Hormone Metabolites of a Wild Asian Elephant
Article · September 2018
6 authors, including:
Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects:
Management & Ecology of Malaysian Elephants View project
The Link between Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices in Relation to Atmospheric Haze Pollution in Peninsular Malaysia View project
Ee Phin Wong
University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus
Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz
University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus
Salman Saaban
Department of Wildlife & Nat. Parks Peninsular Malaysia
Jamie Wadey
University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus
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It is challenging to study elusive Asian
elephants (Elephas maximus) in the rainforest
due to the dense foliage and limited sightings
(Blake & Hedges 2004). Recent technological
developments, such as GPS-telemetry and non-
invasive molecular techniques, have considerably
improved the wildlife ecologist toolbox and our
capacity to study forest elephants. Similarly,
ability to measure hormone metabolites from
faeces, allows the physiological monitoring of
free-ranging wildlife without the need to capture
the animal.
Glucocorticoid hormones play a role in
modulating daily energy needs and in helping
to prepare the body to cope with challenges,
managing the period of stress and in recovering
after the challenge has passed (Sapolsky et al.
2000). Wildlife biologists can now use faecal
glucocorticoid metabolites to gauge wildlife
Peer-Reviewed Research Article Gajah 48 (2018) 4-11
The Elephant who Finally Crossed the Road – Signicant Life Events Reected in
Faecal Hormone Metabolites of a Wild Asian Elephant
Ee Phin Wong1,2,*, Lisa Yon2, Susan L. Walker3, Alicia Solana Mena1, Jamie Wadey1,
Nasharuddin Othman4, Salman Saaban4 and Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz1,5
1School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Faculty of Science,
The University of Nottingham Malaysia, Jalan Broga, Semenyih, Selangor, Malaysia
2School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, Faculty of Medical & Health Sciences,
The University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington, Leicestershire, UK
3Chester Zoo, Upton-by Chester, Chester, UK
4Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
5Mindset Interdisciplinary Centre for Environmental Studies,
The University of Nottingham Malaysia, Jalan Broga, Semenyih, Selangor, Malaysia
*Corresponding author’s e-mail:
Abstract. We used GPS-telemetry and faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGCM) to
monitor a wild translocated female elephant in rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. The
elephant was GPS-tagged at translocation and her fGCM monitored within 11–22 months
after translocation. The lowest fGCM concentrations were observed at the beginning of
hormone monitoring, when she exhibited unusual movement patterns, moving repetitively
alongside a major road without crossing it. Around the 16th month after translocation, the
elephant delivered a calf and in the 18th month she crossed the road. In this period, she
exhibited increased fGCM concentrations, presumably indicating response to challenging
life events.
responses towards anthropogenic impacts such
as tourism, logging, and translocation (Wasser et
al. 1997; Thiel et al. 2008; Dickens et al. 2010;
Wong 2017). In addition, it is considerably easier
to obtain faecal samples in the eld than saliva,
urine, or blood (Palme et al. 2005), as wild Asian
elephants are known to defecate up to 18 times
per day (Hedges et al. 2005).
Furthermore, faecal glucocorticoid metabolites
(fGCM) patterns are reective of free gluco-
corticoid concentrations in the blood, after taking
into account the gastrointestinal transit time
(Touma & Palme 2005; Sheriff et al. 2010a), and
are therefore a reasonable method to evaluate
adrenal activity. However, the use of fGCM,
requires various validation tests to ensure we are
measuring actual adrenal responses instead of
environmental or sampling artefacts (see reviews
by Millspaugh & Washburn 2004; Goymann
2012). In previous studies, we have validated
the use of fGCM in Asian elephants (Watson et
© 2018 The Authors - Open Access
al. 2013) and that fGCM samples are stable up
to eight hours after defecation in a tropical rain
forest environment (Wong et al. 2016).
In 1950, Selye introduced his theory of “General
Adaptation Syndrome” outlining the adrenal
glands’ role in secreting glucocorticoids as
response to stimulants (stressors). Since then,
more researchers have identied links between
glucocorticoid concentrations and health. In
a “ght or ight” scenario when faced with a
dangerous situation (e.g., zebra chased by a
lion; Sapolsky 2004), within seconds to minutes,
the body will release a cascade of hormones,
including catecholamines and corticotropin-
releasing hormone (CRH), into the blood stream;
these effect a number of physiological changes
in the body (Sapolsky et al. 2000; Sheriff et al.
2011). The CRH, secreted by the hypothalamus,
stimulates the pituitary’s secretion of
adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in
turn, will stimulate the adrenal glands to release
glucocorticoids minutes after the stressful
encounter (Chrousos 1998; Sapolsky et al. 2000;
Sheriff et al. 2011).
Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones that will
exert a physiological effect on the body over
a few hours, and will act through a negative
feedback loop to receptors in the brain, to reduce
the production of CRH and ACTH after the
stressor ends (Sapolsky et al. 2000). In an acute
stress scenario, glucocorticoids play a vital role
in managing stress and assisting in recovery
from stressors (Sapolsky et al. 2000), which
includes mediating immune responses to prevent
overshooting or autoimmunity, enhancing
cardiovascular activation during stress, and
maintaining the sensitivity of β-adrenergic
receptors to catecholamines at vital locations in
the body, including the heart (McEwen 1998;
Sapolsky et al. 2000; Silverman et al. 2005).
Although glucocorticoids are often termed as
“stress hormones”, they have important functions
outside the “ght and ight” stress response. Basal
glucocorticoids have a circadian cycle in our body
and play an important role in energy regulation. At
low to moderate levels, glucocorticoids stimulate
appetite; and appetite normally peaks when basal
glucocorticoid concentrations are at their highest
early in the morning (Sapolsky et al. 2000).
When acute stress occurs, appetite is suppressed
temporarily (less than an hour) and afterwards
glucocorticoids may help build appetite to
encourage metabolic intake and prepare the
body for subsequent stressors (Sapolsky et al.
2000). If the timing and secretion pattern for
glucocorticoids are disrupted (McEwen et al.
2015), the adrenal response is impaired (Dickens
et al. 2009), or the body reaches exhaustion due
to chronic stress (Selye 1950; Sapolsky 1999),
then there could be negative impacts on health.
Elevated glucocorticoids can have adverse
effects on memory, learning, and cognitive
function (Sapolsky 1999; McEwen et al. 2015).
Although not so well known, low concentration
of glucocorticoids is linked to acute adrenal crisis
(a potentially life-threatening condition; Lee &
Ho 2013), chronic fatigue syndrome (Edwards
et al. 2011), and post-traumatic stress disorder
(Raison & Miller 2003; Yehuda & Seckl 2011),
amongst other health problems (Heim et al. 2000;
Cicchetti & Walker 2001). Therefore, the ability
to maintain an adequate concentration of basal
glucocorticoids is vital for the body in managing
daily activities (Sapolsky et al. 2000; Busch &
Hayward 2009; Madliger & Love 2014), as well
as in facing stressors or energy-intensive life-
history stages such as migration (Sapolsky et al.
2000; Wingweld & Kitaysky 2002; McEwen &
Wingweld 2003).
Peninsular Malaysia is home to an estimated
population of 1223–1677 wild Asian elephants
(Saaban et al. 2011) that, like elsewhere in the
species range (Fernando & Pastorini 2011),
are endangered due to the combined effect of
habitat loss and human-elephant conict (HEC).
Translocation, moving elephants from conict
zones to protected areas, has been one of the
main strategies to mitigate HEC in Peninsular
Malaysia in recent decades, with approximately
10 to 25 wild elephants translocated every year
since 1974 (Saaban et al. 2011; pers. comm.
Nasharuddin Othman). Not much is known about
the impact of translocation on elephants, nor how
they fare after their release. The work presented
here is part of the activity of the Management
and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME)
project, a collaboration between university
researchers and local wildlife authorities that
aims to move towards an evidence-based
conservation of elephants in Peninsular Malaysia
( Among other
activities, MEME is using GPS-telemetry and
fGCM monitoring to study elephant response to
translocation, comparing the movement patterns
(e.g. Wadey et al. 2018) and hormone proles
(Wong 2017) of translocated and local resident
elephants at release sites. Here we present a case
study that uses movement tracking and hormone
proles to gain insights into the physiological
condition of a wild elephant.
Study site
The Belum-Temengor Landscape (BTL) is
located in the northwest of Peninsular Malaysia
(Fig. 1), and is mainly comprised of hill
dipterocarp and upper dipterocarp forest. It
covers the Royal Belum State Park (1175 km²),
Temengor Forest Reserve (1489 km²), state land
(131 km²), indigenous villages, plantations,
rivers and a large dam (Rayan & Linkie 2015).
This landscape is bisected by the Gerik-Jeli East-
West highway, of about 121 km in length (Wadey
et al. 2018).
Study subject
The elephant in this case study is a female (named
Mek Jalong) from the south of Perak that was
translocated 94 km to BTL on the 20th May 2012
(day 0). Jalong was tted with a GPS-satellite
collar (~17 kg, Africa Wildlife Tracking, South
Africa), which tracked her movements every
two hours from day 0 to day 669. We started
monitoring Jalong’s fGCM in the 11th month
(day 341) after her translocation and stopped in
the 22nd month (day 669), when her GPS-collar
failed. During this latter period (days 341–669),
Jalong underwent two presumably challenging
(in terms of stimulation of the HPA axis) events.
The rst event was the birth of her calf (Fig. 2),
which took place around the 16th month after
translocation. This indicates that Jalong was four
to six months pregnant when she was translocated.
The second event was when she crossed the East-
West highway for the rst time during the study
period, 18 months (day 537) after translocation.
Field sample collection
We tracked Jalong on the ground by rst using
the GPS collar’s location coordinates to know
where she had been in the previous few hours
and, then, using the strength of the collars VHF
signal and forest signs (e.g. footprints, disturbed
Figure 1. Combined tracklog (days 0–660) of Mek Jalong’s movement before (blue dots) and after
(yellow dots) crossing a major highway (black line) in the Belum-Temengor landscape for the rst
time on day 537 after translocation.
vegetation, and the sound of apping ears and
feeding) to narrow down Jalong’s position. Once
the tracking team was at close distance from
the elephant (within visual or auditory range),
we closely tracked her movements to look for
fresh dung assumed to have been produced by
her. Since the elephant never joined any other
elephant (except her calf) and we were tracking
her at very close range, it is highly unlikely that
the dung samples we collected could have been
produced by any other elephant. Once we found
a dung pile, we recorded the GPS location and
environmental variables associated.
The faecal samples were collected using clean
surgical gloves and stored in a zip-lock bag;
approximately 100 g of faecal material was
removed from the middle of the bolus from an
average of three intact boli. The fGCM samples
were mixed thoroughly in the zip-lock bag and
placed immediately in a cooler bag with ice
packs, before transferring it to a portable car
compressor freezer (–15°C to –18°C; Mobicool
CF18C and CDF-11, Germany, powered by
car AC socket) or chest freezer (–20°C) at our
eld station. Following Wong et al. (2016), only
samples stored in the freezer within eight hours
after defecation were used in the analysis.
In the 11 months in which we monitored Jalong’s
fGCM, we obtained a total 13 dung samples from
nine different sampling occasions.
Laboratory analysis
We used a wet-weight extraction technique
(Watson et al. 2013), whereby 5 ml of 90%
methanol were used to extract fGCM overnight
from 0.5 g (± 0.003) of a well-mixed dung
sample. Extracts were dried and reconstituted
in 1 ml of 100% methanol, and stored at –20°C
until being analysed with a corticosterone
enzyme immunoassay (CJM006, Coralie Munro,
UC Davis). The biological and biochemical
validation for the assay was previously carried
out by Watson et al. (2013). Only data with an
intra-assay coefcient of variation (CoV) of less
than 10% and inter-assay CoV less than 15%
were used for subsequent analyses.
In the approximately 16 months after her
translocation, Jalong remained solitary although
there were other elephant groups in the area.
She moved up and down repetitively along the
northern side of the East-West highway, always
close to the road but never crossing it (Fig. 1).
When Jalong’s fGCM monitoring started on day
341 post-translocation, for 4.5 months, Jalong’s
mean fGCM was 7.3 ± 1.2 ng/g (SD; Fig. 3).
Jalong was rst noticed to be with her calf on day
481 post-translocation during a eld track. Soon
after that (day 536), Jalong crossed the East-
West highway for the rst time (Fig. 1). In the
period between these two events, Jalong’s fGCM
uctuated (mean±SD fGCM = 10.9 ± 3.9 ng/g;
Fig. 3). We recorded Jalong’s highest fGCM
value shortly before she crossed the highway
(15.9 ng/g, highest concentration throughout the
monitoring period of 11 months). After crossing
the highway, Jalong’s movement changed and
she began exploring new areas away from the
road (see Fig. 1), while her fGCM concentration
persisted around 11.2 ± 1.4 ng/g for the remaining
four months (Fig. 3) until monitoring terminated
at day 669 post-release, when the GPS satellite
housing detached from the collar.
At the beginning of the study, Jalong roamed alone
and showed repetitive movements alongside the
highway (i.e. she seemed attracted to the highway
Figure 2. Mek Jalong and her newborn calf.
but avoided crossing it). This is a very unusual
movement pattern compared to other elephants
monitored in this landscape (Wadey et al.
2018). Jalong’s initial fGCM concentration was
similar to fGCM concentrations found in other
translocated elephants in the year immediately
after translocation (8.5 ± 1.9 ng/g, N = 5; all
males; Wong 2017) but lower in comparison to
local resident elephants in the same landscape
(11.4 ± 2.8 ng/g, N = 4, 3 males and 1 female;
Wong 2017). Although the East-West highway
has a negative impact on elephant movements in
the area, the elephants in the landscape are still
able to cross it. Wadey et al. (2018) found that
translocated elephants in this landscape were
14 times less likely to cross the road than local
ones, suggesting that road crossing is particularly
challenging to elephants not familiar with the
road. In separate studies, we have found that wild
elephants are attracted to this highway due to the
availability of grasses and other early succession
plants, mainly monocots, in the area (Yamamoto-
Ebina et al. 2016; Terborgh et al. 2017).
Before Jalong crossed the highway for the
rst time, we detected an increase in fGCM
concentrations. The time of the road crossing
event, however, also coincided with Jalong’s
delivery of her calf, which also may result in an
increase in fGCM concentrations (Brown 2000).
Jalong’s fGCM concentration remained elevated
after crossing the road; this could be related to
the challenges of exploring a new environment
(there was a change in movement patterns and
Jalong was exploring areas further away from
the road) and the need to be vigilant when caring
for offspring (Rees et al. 2004). Jalong’s fGCM
concentration values, which persisted after
crossing the highway, however, were within the
usual fGCM range for local elephants in the area
who crossed the highway regularly (Wong 2017).
In retrospect, the increase in fGCM in Jalong’s
case could be due to many other reasons, but
we speculate it is a positive indication that she
was actively coping with challenges in her
surroundings and in caring for her young calf.
Although there could be innate fGCM differences
between male and female elephants, both will
respond to challenging situations in the eld and
show an increase in fGCM (Vijayakrishnan et al.
The unusual nature of Jalong’s movements
before crossing the road and her relatively
low fGCM concentration compared with local
elephants in the landscape (Wong 2017) could
be of concern, since prolonged periods of low
glucocorticoid concentrations can be associated
with health problems (e.g. Dickens et al. 2009;
Linklater et al. 2010; Pawluski et al. 2017). In
future studies, researchers should investigate
the importance of having an adequate amount
of basal glucocorticoids in helping humans
and animals to manage challenges in their
surrounding (Sapolsky et al. 2000; McEwen &
Wingweld 2003).
Alteration of the mother’s glucocorticoid con-
centrations during pregnancy can exert inuence
on her offspring’s (F1) and grandchildren’s (F2)
stress response, physiology, and health (Franklin
et al. 2010; Sheriff et al. 2010b; Matthews &
Phillips 2012; Khan et al. 2016). This also means
that Jalong’s translocation could potentially
affect her calf’s health and behaviour.
This case study demonstrates that (1) GPS-
tracking can be successfully combined with
fGCM to monitor the physiological condition of
wild Asian elephants in tropical rainforest and
(2) signicant life events can be reected in wild
elephants’ fGCM concentrations. Although our
sample size is too small to draw conclusions, our
Figure 3. Faecal glucocorticoid metabolites
prole for Mek Jalong. The red line was drawn
using loess smoothing (span 0.75) and the shaded
grey area represents standard error 95%.
results and those in Wong (2017) suggest that
translocation could affect elephants’ health and
behaviour. More research is needed to understand
the relationship between elephant exposure to
prolonged stress and changes in glucocorticoid
concentrations, and when these hormonal
changes can be harmful for the elephants. In this
context, we call for the precautionary principle in
managing wild elephant populations.
This study is part of the Management & Ecology
of Malaysian Elephants (MEME), a joint research
project between the Department of Wildlife and
National Parks (DWNP) Peninsular Malaysia
and the University of Nottingham Malaysia.
We are very grateful to DWNP, and especially
to Dato’ Abdul Kadir bin Abu Hashim and
Dato’ Abdul Rasid Samsudin, DWNP’s current
and former Director Generals, for the permits
to conduct this research and for the continuous
support in the eld. Field activities were
generously nanced by grants from Yayasan
Sime Darby (M0005.54.04) and Marinescape
(M0004.54.04). DWNP’s elephant translocation
team and Perak’s elephant unit conducted the
elephant capturing and sedation; Mohammad
Rizal Bin Paimin, Steven Lim, Param bin Pura,
Muhammad Tauhid bin Tunil, Sudin A/L Din,
Rizuan bin Angah, Khairil Othman, Shaharom
and many other individuals provided key
assistance during elephant collaring and tracking
activities. Chester Zoo and their lab technician,
Ms. Rebecca Purcell, have assisted in the setting-
up the faecal endocrinology laboratory at the
University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus that
made the analysis possible. We are grateful to all.
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... Moreover, these appearances are valuable information for nurturing elephant programs that live naturally or domestically (Meytasari et al. 2014). The development of technology nowadays, like GPS (Global Positioning System) and non-invasive molecular technic, helps increase our understanding of observing and studying the wildlife ecology, especially wild elephants (Wong et al. 2018). After that, analyzing the vegetation intensity damage at KPH Kotaagung Utara using the vegetation indexes. ...
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The Indonesian Elephant Conservation Forum stated that the population of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) had decreased dramatically up to 70% in the last 20-30 years due to illegal hunting, land conversion, and encroachment, so the availability of elephant food in the wild is gradually inadequate. With the decline of the elephant population in Indonesia, several parties such as the government, NGO, and the public are beginning to monitor the Sumatran elephant. The monitoring is carried out by observing and studying the movements of elephants using a GPS Collar. The research aims to find out the consistency of elephant movement and its relationship to the availability of feed as indicated by the intensity of vegetation in KPH Kotaagung Utara, Lampung Province, Indonesia. This research used GIS technology (Correlation Citra Landsat 8 OLI and BIG Demnas Data), elephant movement data using GPS Collar in 2020, and land use data by BPKH Lampung. The results showed that the monthly movement pattern of elephants in 2020 was consistently monitored. From January-July, elephants are in the North area, while in August-December are in the South. The intensity of elephant movement in the Mixed Shrub Dryland Agriculture area is higher than in the other areas, at 107 points or about 90% of all the areas in KPH Kotaagung Utara. Meanwhile, in the Dryland and Shrub Agriculture areas, there are 6 points each, or about 5% of all the areas. The vegetation classification in KPH Kotaagung Utara is dense with an NDVI value range of 0.63-0.85. Furthermore, the regression results prove that NDVI and the monthly season affect the movement of elephants with a p-value of <0.001.
... Factors including the lack of habitat enrichment activity, essential sources, and other physical factors might cause elephants' avoidance of the bridges. The frequent presence of elephants on the East-West Highway (Wadey et al., 2018;Wong et al., 2018b) and the placement of warning signages for elephants on the road (Timbuong, 2019) show a high tendency for this species to not using the CS. On the other hand, the viaducts were explicitly designed to connect the elephants' main landscapes (Saaban et al., 2011). ...
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The Felda Aring - Tasik Kenyir Road was identified as one of the most threatening roads to wildlife in Malaysia. The present study was conducted to assess the road crossing activities involving the medium- to large-mammal species due to the problem stated. The objectives of this study were to (1) predict the suitability of the road and its surroundings as the roaming areas for the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus, n = 104) and Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus, n = 66), (2) identify the mammalian species inhabiting the forest beside the road, (3) compare the forest’s common species [photographic capture rate index (PCRI) > 10/ detection probability (P) ≥ 0.05] with the ones utilising the road crossing structures; the viaducts and the bridges, and (4) determine the most impacted species from traffic collisions. The road and its surroundings were classified as moderately suitable to the elephant and tapir (suitability values = 0.4 - 0.8). A total of 16 mammal species were recorded at the forest edges, in which the wild pig (Sus scrofa) (PCRI = 118.96, P = 0.3719 ± 0.027), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak) (PCRI = 68.89, P = 0.2219 ± 0.0232), sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) (PCRI = 11.13, P = 0.0507 ± 0.0159), tapir (PCRI = 11.13, P = 0.0469 ± 0.0118), elephant (PCRI = 10.7, P = 0.0787 ± 0.0195) and Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) (PCRI = 10.7, P = 0.103 ± 0.0252) were the common species utilising the crossing structures. In contrast, the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) were the most frequently hit species on the road [F(7,398) = 28.53, p < 0.0005]. The present study found that large-mammal species were utilising the crossing structures at a higher frequency, whereas more medium-mammal species were involved in traffic collisions.
... Factors including the lack of habitat enrichment activity, essential sources, and other physical factors might cause elephants' avoidance of the bridges. The frequent presence of elephants on the East-West Highway (Wadey et al., 2018;Wong et al., 2018b) and the placement of warning signages for elephants on the road (Timbuong, 2019) show a high tendency for this species to not using the CS. On the other hand, the viaducts were explicitly designed to connect the elephants' main landscapes (Saaban et al., 2011). ...
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β-carotene is an important nutritional content in banana. However, its lifetime depends on the enzymes controlling its conversion into strigolactone. To understand the involved enzymes’ activity, which are β-carotene isomerase (D27), carotenoid cleavage dioxygenase 7 (CCD7), and CCD8, would be the key to manipulate the rate of β-carotene degradation. In this research, we characterized the structure of genes and proteins of the D27, CCD7, and CCD8 from Musa acuminata ‘DH-Pahang’ and Musa balbisiana ‘Pisang Klutuk Wulung’ (PKW). We aligned the corresponding sequence of genes from both species to determine similarity and intron/exon positions. We also identified domains and motifs in the sequences of putative proteins of D27, CCD7, and CCD8. We found that D27, CCD7, and CCD8 genes in DH-Pahang and PKW comprise of various nucleotide sequence length, putative proteins, and numbers and length of exons and introns. However, the putative proteins possess the same domains: DUF4033 (domain of unknown function) in D27 and RPE65 (retinal pigment epithelium) in CCD7 and CCD8. Phylogenetic trees showed that D27, CCD7, and CCD8 proteins from DH-Pahang and PKW are conserved and clustered in the same clades with the same proteins of monocot plants. Hence, the results could be useful for future research in optimizing β-carotene content in banana. Keywords: A genome, B genome, β-carotene, CCD, D27
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Elephant camps are among the most popular destinations in Thailand for tourists from many countries. A wide range of management strategies are used by these camps, which can have varied impacts on health and welfare of elephants. The objectives of this study were to examine relationships between FGM (fecal glucocorticoid metabolite) concentrations and camp management factors (work routine, walking, restraint, rest area, foraging), and to other welfare indicators (stereotypic behaviors, body condition, foot health, and skin wounds). Data were obtained on 84 elephants (18 males and 66 females) from 15 elephant camps over a 1-year period. Elephants were examined every 3 months and assigned a body condition score, foot score, and wound score. Fecal samples were collected twice monthly for FGM analysis. Contrary to some beliefs, elephants in the observation only program where mahouts did not carry an ankus for protection had higher FGM concentrations compared to those at camps that offered riding with a saddle and shows. Elephants that were tethered in the forest at night had lower FGM concentrations compared to elephants that were kept in open areas inside the camps. There was an inverse relationship between FGM concentrations and occurrence of stereotypy, which was not anticipated. Thus, assessing adrenal activity via monitoring of FGM concentrations can provide important information on factors affecting the well-being of elephants. Results suggest that more naturalistic housing conditions and providing opportunities to exercise may be good for elephants under human care in Thailand, and that a no riding, no hook policy does not necessarily guarantee good welfare.
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Translocation of wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) is used extensively to mitigate human-elephant conflict (HEC) in Peninsular Malaysia since 1974. Very little is known about the fate of translocated elephants after relocation due to challenges in observing elephants in the dense rainforest. Advances in wildlife endocrinology suggest that faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGCM) can be used to study adrenal activity remotely, to assess the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis response towards stressors. The aim is to assess the impact of translocation on wild Asian elephants in Peninsular Malaysia using faecal endocrinology and GPS technology. The specific objectives are: (i) adapting hormone sampling methods for use under tropical field conditions, (ii) comparing fGCM concentrations between translocated and local resident elephants using enzyme immunoassay, and (iii) quantifying gastrointestinal parasite eggs and microflora ciliates in faecal samples to detect signs of immunosuppression. We found that Asian elephant’s fGCM (80 dungpiles, 685 subsamples) are stable up to eight hours in the field. From the monitoring of wild elephants at the release sites, between two months up to a year, translocated elephants (N=5) had lower fGCM concentrations in comparison to local resident elephants (N=4; Linear Mixed Models: t=-2.77, df=7.09, P=0.027). There were no differences in gastrointestinal parasite egg counts (P>0.05) or microflora ciliate counts (P>0.05) between translocated and local resident elephants. In conclusion, translocation does affect elephant physiology but this is in the opposite direction from that expected – a prolonged decrease rather than increase of adrenal activity. It is unknown if these conditions could cause immunosuppression, but it could adversely affect stress response and health of the elephant (e.g. adrenal insufficiency, chronic fatigue or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). When assessing HEC mitigation, conservation authorities and other stakeholders need to consider that translocation may not be the best solution for HEC, as it will have long-term consequences on elephants’ health.
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Increasing anthropogenic pressures on forests, especially in the tropical regions of the world, have restricted several large mammalian species such as the Asian elephant to fragmented habitats within human-dominated landscapes. In this study, we assessed the effects of an anthropogenic landscape and its associated conflict with humans on the physiological stress responses displayed by Asian elephants in the Anamalai Hills of the Western Ghats mountains in south India. We have quantified faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) concentrations in focal individual elephants within and across herds, inhabiting both anthropogenic and natural habitats, and evaluated their physiological responses to different socio-ecological situations between November 2013 and April 2014. Physiological stress responses varied significantly among the tested elephant age- and sex categories but not across different types of social organisation. Adults generally showed higher FGM concentrations, even in the absence of stressors, than did any other age category. Males also appeared to have higher stress responses than did females. Although there was no significant variation in mean stress levels between elephants on the plateau in the absence of human interactions and those in adjacent, relatively undisturbed forest habitats, FGM concentrations increased significantly for adult and subadult individuals as well as for calves following drives, during which elephants were driven off aggressively by people. Our study emphasises the general importance of understanding individual variation in physiology and behaviour within a population of a seriously threatened mammalian species, the Asian elephant, and specifically highlights the need for long-term monitoring of the stress physiology and behavioural responses of individual elephants across both human-dominated and natural landscapes. Such studies would not only provide comprehensive insights into the adaptive biology of elephants in changing ecological regimes but also aid in the development of effective management and conservation strategies for endangered populations of the species.
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The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response to chronic stress is far from straight forward, particularly with regards to animal welfare. There are reports of no effect as well as both decreases and increases in cortisol after chronic stressors. Therefore, the first aim of the present study was to determine how measures of compromised welfare, such as chronic pain and haematological anomalies, related to cortisol levels in domestic horses (Equus caballus). Domestic horses are an informative model to investigate the impact of chronic stress (due to environment, pain, work, housing conditions.. .) on the HPA axis. The second aim was to determine whether levels of fecal cortisol metabolites (FCM) may be used as an indicator of welfare measures. The present study used fifty-nine horses (44 geldings and 15 mares), from three riding centres in Brittany, France. The primary findings show that horses whose welfare was clearly compromised (as indicated by an unusual ears backward position , presence of vertebral problems or haematological anomalies, e.g. anaemia) also had lower levels of both FCM and plasma cortisol. This work extends our previous findings showing that withdrawn postures, indicators of depressive-like behavior in horses, are associated with lower plasma cortisol levels. We also found that evening plasma cortisol levels positively correlated with FCM levels in horses. Future research aims to determine the extent to which factors of influence on welfare, such as living conditions (e.g. single stalls versus group housing in pasture or paddocks), early life factors, and human interaction, act as mediators of cortisol levels in horses.
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Megaherbivores are known to influence the structure, composition, and diversity of vegetation. In Central Africa, forest elephants act as ecological filters by breaking tree saplings and stripping them of foliage. Much less is known about impacts of megafauna on Southeast Asian rain forests. Here, we ask whether herbivory by Asian megafauna has impacts analogous to those of African forest elephants. To answer this, we studied forest (1) structure, (2) composition, (3) diversity, and (4) tree scars in Belum and Krau, two protected areas of Peninsular Malaysia, and compared the results with those obtained in African forests. Elephants are abundant in Belum but have been absent in Krau since 1993. We found that stem density and diversity, especially of tree saplings, were higher in Krau than in Belum. Palms and other monocots were also more abundant in Krau. In Belum, however, small monocots (<1 m tall) were very abundant but larger ones (>1 m tall) were virtually absent, suggesting size-selective removal. The frequency of stem-break scars was equal at Belum and Krau but less than in Central Africa and greater than in the Peruvian Amazon where tapirs are the only megafauna. Pigs and tapirs could also contribute to the high frequency of tree scars recorded in Malaysian forests. Forest-dwelling elephants in Asia seem to have a reduced impact on tree saplings compared to African forest elephants, but a very strong impact on monocots.
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The use of faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGCMs) has facilitated the development of non-invasive methods to study physiological conditions of endangered wildlife populations. One limitation is that fGCM concentrations are known to change over time and to vary according to different environmental conditions. The aim of this study was to perform a controlled dung decay experiment to understand the impact of time (since defecation) and two common environmental variables (exposure to water and direct sunlight) on fGCM concentrations of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). Eighty dung piles from 10 Malaysian elephants were randomly exposed to a 2 × 2 combination of treatments (wet–shade, dry–shade, wet–sun and dry–sun) and repeatedly subsampled from the time of defecation through to 2 days post-defecation (n = 685 faecal subsamples). Overall, the mean concentration of fGCMs was stable in samples of up to 8 h old from defecation time, regardless of environmental treatment (water or direct sunlight); thereafter, the overall mean fGCM concentrations increased, peaking 1 day after defecation (31.8% higher than at defecation time), and subsequently decreased (reaching values 9.2% below defecation time on the second day). Overall, the treatment of sun exposure resulted in higher fGCM concentration compared with shade, whereas water exposure (compared with no water exposure) had no impact on fGCM concentrations. Hence, in field studies we recommend collecting dung samples <8 h old and recording shade conditions (e.g. sun vs. shade) as a covariate for the subsequent interpretation of fGCM measurements. This study has helped to identify the optimal window for sampling in which we can have a higher confidence in interpreting the results as being a genuine reflection of glucocorticoid status in the elephant.
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Little is known about the food habits of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. In Peninsular Malaysia, elephant habitat has been extensively modified by human intervention in the past few decades. Most of the primary forest has been logged or given way to plantations, infrastructure, and human inhabitation. Here we compare the food habits of wild elephants in three habitats of Belum-Temengor Forest Complex (BTFC): (1) primary forest, (2) selectively-logged forest, and (3) by the side of a road that bisects the forest complex. We used microhistological fecal analysis to describe elephants' diet. Elephant dung in the primary forest was mainly composed of non-grass monocotyledonous leaves (22%), woody debris (32%), and woody fiber (20%). Those in the logged forest were similar; non-grass monocotyledonous leaves accounted for 33%, woody debris for 24%, and fiber for 26%. At the roadside, elephant dung was dominated by grasses (47%). We conclude that by the road elephants shift their diet into grasses, suggesting that the road acts like a large forest gap, promoting the availability of grasses and other early succession plants. Elephant feeding by the road poses potential conservation conflicts by means of road accidents and increased contact with people.
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The brain is the central organ involved in perceiving and adapting to social and physical stressors via multiple interacting mediators, from the cell surface to the cytoskeleton to epigenetic regulation and nongenomic mechanisms. A key result of stress is structural remodeling of neural architecture, which may be a sign of successful adaptation, whereas persistence of these changes when stress ends indicates failed resilience. Excitatory amino acids and glucocorticoids have key roles in these processes, along with a growing list of extra- and intracellular mediators that includes endocannabinoids and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The result is a continually changing pattern of gene expression mediated by epigenetic mechanisms involving histone modifications and CpG methylation and hydroxymethylation as well as by the activity of retrotransposons that may alter genomic stability. Elucidation of the underlying mechanisms of plasticity and vulnerability of the brain provides a basis for understanding the efficacy of interventions for anxiety and depressive disorders as well as age-related cognitive decline.
Roads cause negative impacts on wildlife by directly and indirectly facilitating habitat destruction and wildlife mortality. We used GPS telemetry to study the movements of 17 wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and a mechanistic modelling framework to analyse elephant response to a road bisecting their habitat in Belum- Temengor, northern Peninsular Malaysia. Our objectives were to (1) describe patterns of road crossing, (2) quantify road effects on movement patterns and habitat preference, and (3) quantify individual variation in elephant responses to the road. Elephants crossed the road on average 3.9 ± 0.6 times a month, mostly (81% of times) at night, and crossing was not evenly distributed in space. The road caused a strong and consistent barrier effect for elephants, reducing permeability an average of 79.5%. Elephants, however, were attracted to the proximity to the road, where secondary forest and open habitats are more abundant and contain more food resources for elephants. Although the road acts as a strong barrier to movement (a direct effect), local changes to vegetation communities near roads attract elephants (an indirect effect). Given that risk of mortality (from poaching and vehicle collisions) increases near roads, roads may, therefore, create attractive sinks for elephants. To mitigate the impact of this road we recommend avoiding further road expansion, reducing and enforcing speed limits, limiting traffic volume at night, managing habitat near the road and, importantly, enhancing pa- trolling and other anti-poaching efforts. Our results are relevant for landscapes throughout Asia and Africa, where existing or planned roads fragment elephant habitats.
The unprecedented economic growth occurring across Southeast Asia is causing large tracts of rainforest to be logged, converted to plantations or fragmented by infrastructure development. It also opens up forest to poachers which, in combination, places acute pressure on the region’s large carnivores. Here, we focus on one of Malaysia’s three priority tiger landscapes that illustrate these regional conservation challenges. The Royal Belum State Park (RBSP) and Temengor Forest Reserve (TFR) are connected by a strip of unprotected forest with portions assigned for conversion to monoculture plantations. To support government in setting aside wildlife corridors, we assessed: the abundance of tiger and principle prey under two different forest management regimes in RBSP and TFR; and, tiger habitat use in the unprotected forest strip, from which a spatially-explicit habitat model was produced to identify priority points of forest connectivity. Camera trapping revealed a threefold higher tiger density in the protected area (RBSP) than the forest reserve subjected to selective logging (TFR), which was likely explained by the higher relative abundance of its principal prey, seemingly lower levels of poaching as indicated from an independent study and presence of armed forces that may have deterred poachers. Two forest corridors were identified as being important for maintaining landscape connectivity and these findings were used to successfully lobby state government in affording them protection. This research offers an urgently needed approach for better managing Malaysian tiger habitat within forest reserves, which are predominantly designated for logging and have weak or non-existent wildlife protection measures.