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Our aim was to identify natural and anthropogenic influences on the stress physiology of large African carnivores, using wild spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) as model animals. With both longitudinal data from a single social group, and cross-sectional data from multiple groups, we used fecal glucocorticoids (fGC) to examine potential stressors among spotted hyenas. Longitudinal data from adult members of a group living on the edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, revealed that fGC concentrations were elevated during two periods of social upheaval among adults, especially among younger females; however, prey availability, rainfall, and presence of lions did not influence fGC concentrations among hyenas. Our results suggested that anthropogenic disturbance in the form of pastoralist activity, but not tourism, influenced fGC concentrations among adult male hyenas; rising concentrations of fGC among males over 12 years were significantly correlated with increasing human population density along the edge of the group's home range. As hyenas from this social group were frequently exposed to anthropogenic disturbance, we compared fGC concentrations among these hyenas with those obtained concurrently from hyenas living in three other groups undisturbed by pastoralist activity. We found that fGC concentrations from the undisturbed groups were significantly lower than those in the disturbed group, and we were able to rule out tourism and ecological stressors as sources of variation in fGC among the populations. Thus it appears that both social instability and anthropogenic disturbance, but not the ecological variables examined, elevate fGC concentrations and represent stressors for wild spotted hyenas. Further work will be necessary to determine whether interpopulation variation in stress physiology predicts population decline in groups exposed to intensive anthropogenic disturbance.

Recommended Citation

Van Meter, P. E., French, J. A.., Dloniak, S. M., Watts, H. E. & Holekamp, K. E. 2009. Fecal glucocorticoids reflect socio-ecological and anthropogenic stressors in the lives of wild spotted hyenas. Hormones and Behavior 55: 329-337.