Glucocorticoid stress responses of lions in relation to group composition, human land use and proximity to people
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Large carnivore populations are in global decline, and conflicts between large carnivores and humans or their livestock contribute to low tolerance of large carnivores outside of protected areas. African lions (Panthera leo) are a conflict-prone species, and their continental range has declined by 75% in the face of human pressures. Nonetheless, large carnivore populations persist (or even grow) in some areas that are occupied by humans. Lions attain locally high density in the Olkiramatian and Shompole Group Ranches of Kenya's South Rift region, despite residence by pastoralist Maasai people and their sheep, goats, and cattle. We have previously found that these lions respond to seasonal movements of people by moving away from occupied settlements, shifting into denser habitats when people are nearby, and moving into a protected conservation area when people move into the adjacent buffer zone. Here, we examined lion stress responses to anthropogenic activities, using enzyme-linked immunoassay to measure the concentration of faecal glucocorticoid metabolites in 136 samples collected from five lion groups over 2 years. Faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations were significantly lower for lions in the conservation area than for lions in the human-settled buffer zone, and decreased significantly with increasing distance to the nearest occupied human settlement. Faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations were not detectably related to fine-scaled variation in prey or livestock density, and surprisingly, faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations were higher in the wet season, when regional prey abundance was high. Lions coexist with people and livestock on this landscape by adjusting their movements, but they nonetheless mount an appreciable stress response when conditions do not allow them to maintain adequate separation. Thus, physiological data confirm inferences from prior data on lion movements and habitat use, showing that access to undisturbed and protected areas facilitates human–lion coexistence in a broader landscape that is used by people and livestock.
Creel, S, Christianson D & Schuette P 2013. Glucocorticoid stress responses of lions in relation to group composition, human land use and proximity to people. Conservation Physiology 1: 1-11 doi: 10.1093/conphys/cot021