Anthropogenic activity is a major driver of seabird injury and mortality in the 21st century. Although most seabirds perish within the natural environment as a result of human activities, some are rescued and admitted to rehabilitation centres. Despite the considerable number of admissions, little is known regarding the physiological response seabirds have to specific admission reasons and the rehabilitation process. In this study, we aimed to determine the effect of injury, emaciation, oiling, individual removal from the natural environment and the rehabilitation process on the physiological stress response of the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus). Urofaecal samples were collected from African penguins throughout a three-stage rehabilitation process and quantified for glucocorticoid metabolites (ufGCM). The three stages included an initial ICU crate stage (Stage 1), an ICU pen stage (Stage 2) and a rehabilitation stage (Stage 3). Data were analysed using a generalised linear model in order to determine the effect of admission reason, age and rehabilitation stage (Stage 1, 2 and 3) on ufGCM levels. Although the model indicated that only Stage 1 was a significant driver of adrenocortical activity in the study population, ufGCM levels of injured and emaciated animals within Stage 1 were considerably higher than those of birds with any other admission reason across all stages. This is the first study examining the causes and effect of rehabilitation on the physiological stress response in African penguins. Enhanced care and attention should be given to rescued individuals, especially during the first stage of rehabilitation, to reduce perception of additional stressors and thus increase the chance of full recovery.
General and Comparative Endocrinology, Volume 303, 1 March 2021,