The effectiveness of indigestible markers for identifying individual animal feces and their prevalence of use in North American zoos
Techniques for analyzing hormone metabolites in animal excreta have created many opportunities for noninvasive monitoring of health, reproduction, and welfare in zoo animals, but can be difficult to implement when individual samples are not readily identifiable in animal groups.
A common approach to this problem is to feed animals an indigestible marker that subsequently appears in feces, but there has been little systematic research on the use of such "fecal markers." First, we used an online survey to assess the prevalence of fecal marker use in North American zoological institutions. Second, we conducted a series of experimental tests utilizing commonly employed fecal markers in a variety of typical zoo taxa to determine the: (1) effectiveness of several markers to accurately distinguish samples in a variety of species, (2) minimum quantity of marker needed for detection, and (3) length of time between ingestion and detection in the feces. The majority of the 45 institutions that completed the survey reported using fecal markers with their collections. The survey also revealed that the most frequently used markers are seeds/grains and food colorants, with the former generally used in Carnivora and the latter in Primates. Our experimental data confirmed the success of these taxa/marker combinations and also revealed that food colorants function as markers in a variety of avian, reptilian, and mammalian species. Our data describe successful fecal markers for a wide variety of zoo taxa and should, therefore, be useful for zoological managers and researchers needing to employ fecal markers in future investigations.
Title: The effectiveness of indigestible markers for identifying individual animal feces and their prevalence of use in North American zoos.
Authors: Fuller G, Margulis SW & Santymire R.
Source: Zoo Biology, 2010, volume 29