Wildlife endocrinology

Wildlife endocrinology is largely based on non-invasive monitoring of reproductive and adrenocortical hormones of zoo-and wildlife. Our laboratory has the expertise, reagents and instruments availalbe for related research and is experienced in method development and validation for a variety of species and matrices. Most commonly explored matrices in our laboraty are faeces, urine and hair.

Project details
Duration: Since 1992
Third-party funded: no
Involved Department(s): Dept Reproduction Biology
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Jella Wauters (Dept Reproduction Biology)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team:

Katarina Jewgenow, Alexandre Azevedo, Mareen Albrecht, Katrin Paschmionka (all: Dept Reproduction Biology)

Consortium Partner(s): -
Current Funding Organisation: -
Research Foci:
Understanding wildlife health and disturbed homeostasis
Improving population viability
Development of theory, methods and tools


Non-invasive monitoring allows hormone analysis of zoo-and wildlife without disturbance. Best explored matrices are faeces and urine, recently we introduced hair analysis as well. Our endocrine laboratory cooperates with all departments of the Leibniz-IZW contributing to their research project by developing methods and providing endocrine data, among those:

Project focus: Determination of steroid hormones in hair samples

Hair analysis offers an elegant alternative to determine the animal's endocrine status. However, multiple steps in the protocol are challenging, and therefore request proper optimization and validation of the extraction and detection (EIA) methods, for each studied species. For this purpose, HPLC and (U)HPLC-MS/MS are being explored to confirm the developed methods' validity.

In this project we are specifically investigating the suitability of hair as a matrix to study the reproductive status (e.g. progesterone as a measure of pregnancy) or well-being (e.g. glucocorticoids as a measure of stress) of an individual. A straight forward applications would be if hair sex steroid analysis would allow sex-determination in wild ranging individuals.

Clearly, hormones analysis in hair will offer new perspectives for many projects. 

Recently we validated hair cortisol measurement in hyenas, cheetahs, alpine marmots, Egyptian mangooses, bears and lynxes and other wild felids.

I am Alexandre Azevedo, PhD student in Department 4. If you would like to know more about my project, please watch the video!

Project focus: Pregnancy diagnosis in carnivores

Ideally , pregnancy diagnosis should be based on proving the presence of an embryo or fetus. Usually ultrasound examination provides the most conclusive results and is therefore accepted as the golden standard. Nevertheless, the procedure generally causes stress in untrained animals or may be even impossible without chemical restraint. Therefore our laboratory investigates hormonal signals indicating a pregnancy, which can be determined in non-invasively collected samples such as urine or faeces. 

In some species a hormone based pregnancy diagnosis is fairly easy (e.g. progesterone-metabolite analysis in elephants), but remains extremely challenging in other species, particularly those showing delayed implantation and pseudopregnancy, amongst them canine, feline and bear species. In this project we aim to identify biomarkers for pregnancy, based on several technologies including immunological assays and state-of-the art (U)HPLC-(HR)MS.

In our laboratory, a PGFM assay was meanwhile developed for late-term pregnancy diagnosis in several large felid species (see also our Iberian Lynx project). In addition, successful pregnancy diagnosis was achieved by the monitoring of a combination of biomarkers in giant panda urine, including oestrogens and prostaglandins. The giant panda endocrine monitoring and related research was performed based on backgrounds and in collaboration with Ghent University and their respective project partners.

Samples for our work are usually provided by various zoological institutions and pregnancies are usually confirmed by the vets of the Department of Reproduction Management via ultrasound.

Selected Publications

Jenikejew J, Wauters J, Dehnhard M, Scheumann M (2021): The female effect - how female receptivity influences faecal testosterone metabolite levels, socio-positive behavior and vocalization in male Southern white rhinoceroses. CONSERVATION PHYSIOLOGY 9. doi.org/10.1093/conphys/coab026.

Sugianto NA, Dehnhard M, Newman C, Macdonald DW, Buesching CD (2021): A non-invasive method to assess the reproductive status of the European badger (Meles meles) from urinary sex-steroid metabolites. GENERAL AND COMPARATIVE ENDOCRINOLOGY 301. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2020.113655.

Krone O, Bailey LD, Jahnig S, Lauth T, Dehnhard M (2019): Monitoring corticoid metabolites in urine of white-tailed sea eagles: Negative effects of road proximity on breeding pairs. GEN COMP ENDOCRINOL 283, 113223. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2019.113223.

Seeber PA, Quintard B, Sicks F, Dehnhard M, Greenwood AD, Franz M (2018): Environmental stressors may cause equine herpesvirus reactivation in captive Grevy's zebras (Equus grevyi). PEERJ 6, e5422. doi:10.7717/peerj.5422.

Seeber PA, Franz M, Dehnhard M, Ganswindt A, Greenwood AD, East ML (2018): Plains zebra (Equus quagga) adrenocortical activity increases during times of large aggregations in the Serengeti ecosystem. HORM BEHAV 102, 1-9. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2018.04.005.

Pribbenow S, Wachter B, Ludwig C, Weigold A, Dehnhard M (2016): Validation of an enzyme-immunoassay for the non-invasive monitoring of faecal testosterone metabolites in male cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). GEN COMP ENDOCRINOL 228, 40-47. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2016.01.015.

Kelm DH, Popa-Lisseanu AG, Dehnhard M, Ibanez C (2015): Non-invasive monitoring of stress hormones in the bat Eptesicus isabellinus - Do fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations correlate with survival? GEN COMP ENDOCRINOL 226, 27-35. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2015.12.003.

Pribbenow S, East ML, Ganswindt A, Tordiffe AS, Hofer H, Dehnhard M (2015): Measuring Faecal Epi-Androsterone as an Indicator of Gonadal Activity in Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). PLOS ONE 10, e0128706. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128706.

Pribbenow S, Jewgenow K, Vargas A, Serra R, Naidenko S, Dehnhard M (2014): Validation of an enzyme immunoassay for the measurement of faecal glucocorticoid metabolites in Eurasian (Lynx lynx) and Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). GEN COMP ENDOCRINOL 206, 166-177. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2014.07.015.

Lueders I, Ludwig C, Schroeder M, Mueller K, Zahmel J, Dehnhard M (2014): Successful nonsurgical artificial insemination and hormonal monitoring in an Asiatic golden cat (Catopuma temmincki). J ZOO WILDL MED 45, 372-379.

Kersey DC, Dehnhard M (2014): The use of noninvasive and minimally invasive methods in endocrinology for threatened mammalian species conservation. GEN COMP ENDOCRINOL 203, 296-306. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2014.04.022.

Project focus: Determination of steroid hormones in hair samples

Azevedo A, Wauters J, Kirschbaum C, Serra R, Rivas A, Jewgenow K (2020): Sex steroids and glucocorticoid rations in Iberian lynx hair. CONSERVATION PHYSIOLOGY 8. doi.org/10.1093/conphys/coaa075.

Azevedo A, Bailey L, Bandeira V, Dehnhard M, Fonseca C, de Sousa L, Jewgenow K (2019): Age, sex and storage time influence hair cortisol levels in a wild mammal population. PLOS ONE 14, e0221124. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0221124.

Jewgenow K, Azevedo A, Albrecht M, Kirschbaum C, Dehnhard M (2020): Hair cortisol analyses in different mammal species: choosing the wrong assay may lead to erroneous results. CONSERV PHYSIOL 8, coaa009. https://doi.org/10.1093/conphys/coaa009.

Project focus: Pregnancy diagnosis in carnivores

Wauters J, Jewgenow K, Göritz F, Hildebrandt TB (2020): Could embryonic diapause facilitate conservation of endangered species? BIOSCIENTIFICA PROCEEDINGS 10. DOI: 10.1530/biosciprocs.10.005.

Dehnhard M, Kumar V, Chandrasekhar M, Jewgenow K, Umapathy G (2015): Non-invasive pregnancy diagnosis in big cats using the PGFM (13,14-dihydro-15-keto-PGF2α) assay. PLOS ONE 10, e0143958. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143958.

Dehnhard M, Naidenko SV, Jewgenow K (2014): Comparative metabolism of PGFM (13,14-dihydro-15-keto-PGF2alpha) in feces of felids. THERIOGENOLOGY 81, 733-743. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2013.12.007.

Wilson KS, Wauters J, Valentine I, McNeilly A, Girling S, Li R, Li D, Zhang H, Rae MR, Howie F, Andrew R, Duncan WC (2019): Urinary estrogens as a non-invasive biomarker of viable pregnancy in the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). SCI REP 9, 12772. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-49288-6.