Brown bears (Ursus arctos) are often captured and handled for research and management purposes. Although the techniques used are potentially stressful for the animals and might have detrimental and long-lasting consequences, it is difficult to assess their physiological impact. Here we report the use of the leukocyte coping capacity (LCC) technique to quantify the acute stress of capture and handling in brown bears in Scandinavia. In April and May 2012 and 2013, we collected venous blood samples and recorded a range of physiological variables to evaluate the effects of capture and the added impact of surgical implantation or removal of transmitters and sensors. We studied 24 brown bears, including 19 that had abdominal surgery. We found 1) LCC values following capture were lower in solitary bears than in bears in family groups suggesting capture caused relatively more stress in solitary bears, 2) ability to cope with handling stress was better (greater LCC values) in bears with good body condition, and 3) LCC values did not appear to be influenced by surgery. Although further evaluation of this technique is required, our preliminary results support the use of the LCC technique as a quantitative measure of stress.
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Vol. 52 • No. 2s