By Archana Ravi
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is not easy being a tiger or a leopard in a zoo, suspects a researcher studying the animals in Kerala’s zoos. However, it is not easy being Janice Vaz either, the MSc (Wildlife) student from Bharathiar University, who has been studying the stress levels of tigers and leopards, as well as its causes.
She hardly sleeps, and stays beside tiger and leopard enclosures to collect samples of their excreta. She works so hard because the samples have to be fresh, before they are put in liquid Nitrogen to extract cortisol hormones, an indicator of stress. She had to spend nearly two months to study the biological clock of the animals.
Moreover, unlike tigers which are solitary animals, leopards could stay in the same enclosure and it is impossible to distinguish one animal’s droppings from another. She collects the samples when the animal keeper shifts them to their night cell.
Though it may sound icky to some, this is an important study as it would be a good indicator of animal health. “Apart from Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, no entity in India is known to have taken up a study of the stress levels of tigers. And this is the first time that such a study on Indian leopard is being conducted. There has been studies on the cortisol level of reptiles, primates, elephants and deers. However large cats, which are on the verge of extinction, needs to be studied,’’ says Janice.
Janice was in Thiruvananthapuram zoo for a few months, and has moved to Thrissur zoo to study the stress levels of big cats there.
Janice had started her research in at the zoo and rescue centre in Pune. However, originally her study was limited to documenting the behavioural response. For example, when under stress, tigers and leopards pace more. She would compare the pacing on weekends when the number of visitors would be high to that on holidays and weekdays.
She also studied the difference in animal behaviour in different types of enclosures. In Pune, tigers have an open enclosure, while in Thiruvananthapuram the exhibition area, where they are put on most days, is a covered cage.
It was in Thiruvananthapuram zoo, that Janice took up the study of cortisol levels under the guidance of the zoo veterinarian Dr Jacob Alexander. Zoo Director B Joseph said: ‘’This is a very important study, and we have been assisting her in every way possible.’’