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Selected Publication:

Type of publication: Diploma Thesis
Type of document:

Year: 2013

Authors: Marschner, Caroline

Title: The effect of housing systems on the animal welfare of the European hare (Lepus europaeus).

Source: Diplomarbeit, Vet. Med. Univ. Wien, pp. 35.


Stalder Gabrielle
Walzer Christian

Schwarzenberger Franz

Vetmed Research Units:
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology

Graduation date: 04.02.13

Keeping wild animals in captivity requires specificenvironmental conditions within their housing systemto ensurean animal`swelfare and health. Onlyfew facilities keep European hares (EBH) in captivity.Literature or recommendations concerning the husbandry of this species are lacking. Most commonly the animals are kept in traditional cage systems for domestic lagomorphs.The aim of thisstudy was tocompare two housing systems fora population of fortycaptive European hares.In addition to the traditional cage systems, spacious and structured enclosures with natural materials and hiding places were built for unisex groups of fourto sixhares.As anindicator ofstress,faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) concentrations were measuredwith an Enzyme-Immuno-Assay (EIA).Also testosteronelevelswere analysedin male hares by using EIA. Furthermorea descriptive behavioural study was conducted for hares inthegroup housing system.Initial mean fGCM levelincreasedup to 57.65 ng/g in mean [CI 47.05ng/g; 70.62ng/g] and 59.94 ng/g in mean [CI 40.52ng/g; 88.66ng/g] in first and second male group respectively and up to 16.19 ng/g [CI 19.76 ng/g; 13.26ng/g] and 27.93 ng/g[CI 22.88ng/g;34.09ng/g] inthe first and the second female group respectively after relocation into the enclosures.This initial increase of the mean fGCM level following relocation into the enclosuresis regarded as ‘habituationpeak’.Concentrations dropped backtomean fGCM level in cagesin 3 out of 4 groups (20.31ng/gin mean[CI 12.87ng/g; 34.62ng/g] in all male study-animals; 11.59 ng/g[CI 7.55ng/g; 15.63ng/g]in mean in members of the second female study-group within the cages). Forthe firstfemalegroup the initial peak-valuesdid not decrease during thetest monthand stayed constant around 16.19 ng/gin mean.Their original cage level was 13.19ng/g[CI 7.55ng/g; 23.04ng/g]in mean.The secondmale groupsuddenly wentback to initial high values at the end of the test month.The mean testosterone level ofmale haresin cages(11.22 ng/g)differed slightly, but statistically significant,tomean values of 14.41ng/gwithin the enclosures.Behaviour surveysdemonstrated that exploration behaviour(50%)and locomotory activity(33.8%)were the most frequent behaviourobserved. Comfort behaviour occurred with 6.3% and agonistic and socio positive behaviour was seen with 6.1% and 2.6% of all behaviours respectively. This is the first study that evaluates housing systems for European hares. Overall the study shows that group housing has a high potentialin providing an animal-friendly systemfor the normally solitary living hares. It provides an environment where locomotoryactivity and various species-specificbehaviourscan be performed.

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