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Behavioural and physiological responses of captive wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons) to regular handling by humans

By Lindsay A. Hogan, Stephen D. Johnston, Allan T. Lisle, Tamara Keeley, Phoenix Wong, Vere Nicolson, Alan B. Horsup, Tina Janssen, Clive J. C. Phillips

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Abstract

The response of animals to handling by humans has been extensively evaluated in domesticated livestock, but rarely examined in wildlife species. Twelve captive wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons) were subjected to two treatments in a replicated design: (1) daily handling, involving 15min of tactile contact 5 d/wk for 12 wk and (2) no-handling, involving no contact apart from that received during routine husbandry. The effect of handling was assessed via overt responses to human approach and touch, a stressor, and a novel stimulus. Daily handling reduced the wombat's flight distance in response to human approach; more in the first handling replicate (−0.16±0.02m/wk) than in the second (−0.06±0.02m/wk). A behavioural reactivity score also declined faster in the first than second handling replicate. Synthetic ACTH was used to validate the measurement of faecal cortisol metabolites in L. latifrons by EIA. Faecal cortisol metabolite secretion consistently increased in reaction to a handling procedure involving forced human contact (indicating a lack of habituation) but the magnitude of this response was not reduced by regular handling. Regular handling therefore changed the human–wombat relationship by lowering reactivity to and avoidance of the human handler, but did reduce the stress response, suggesting that the wombats entered into a state of learned helplessness.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 134
Issue 3
Pages 217-228
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.07.010
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Tags
  1. Distance
  2. Habituation
  3. Handling
  4. Hormones