Characterization and minimization of the stress response to trapping in free-ranging wolves (Canis lupus): insights from physiology and behavior

Objectives: Wildlife capture is an essential management tool that induces a reactive homeostasis response in the captured animals. The aim of this study was to characterize the reactive homeostatic response to trapping in free-ranging wolves and assess the mitigation achieved by reducing the duration of restraint.

Materials and methods: Making use of wolves captured for ecological research as a model for wildlife acute stress, we characterize 25 reactive homeostasis mediators and we assess the effect on these mediators of reducing the duration of restraint in trap by using remote trap activation alarms.

Results: Free-ranging wolves trapped by leg-hold snares (n = 15) showed higher stress leukogram, tissue injury and hematocrit; while lower glucose, ions and cardiac rate compared with captive wolves. They also showed higher leukocyte count and creatine kinase; but lower hematocrit, cardiac rate and rectal body temperature compared to wolves captured by darting from a helicopter. Daily distance travelled was significantly lower up to day 12 post-capture compared to the remainder of the telemetry follow-up and this effect was more noticeable on the nocturnal distance travelled. Reducing the duration of restraint on trap significantly lowered the stress leukogram and dehydration. Daily distance travelled during the night by wolves captured using trap-alarms was significantly lower only up to day 4 post-capture compared to up to day 28 for wolves captured without trap-alarms.

Discussion: The capture method and duration of restraint influence the reactive homeostasis response of free-ranging wolves. Technological solutions that reduce the duration of restraint on trap significantly dampen this influence.

Conclusions: Wildlife trapping actions should strive to minimize the delay from capture to manipulation.