Abstract: Stress contributes to the development of chronic degenerative diseases in primates. Allostatic load is an estimate of stress-induced physiological dysregulation based on an index of multiple biomarkers. It has been applied to humans to measure effects of stress and predict health outcomes. Assessing allostatic load in nonhuman primates may aid in understanding factors promoting compromised health and longevity in captive populations, as well as risk assessment among wild populations following human activities. We applied an allostatic load index to gorillas housed at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (N = 27, 1956–2014) using data from medical records and biomarkers from banked serum. We estimated allostatic load using seven biomarkers (albumin, cortisol, corticotropin-releasing hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, glucose, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha) and then examined this index for associations with age, sex, number of stressful events, parturition, physiological health measures, and age at death. Stressful events were defined as agonistic interactions with wounding, translocations, and anesthetizations. Allostatic load positively associated with age and total number of lifetime stressful events. Allostatic load was significantly higher in females than in males. Allostatic load was not associated with number of pregnancies and was not different between nulliparous and parous females. Allostatic load associated positively with serum creatinine and triglyceride levels, showed a nonsignificant negative association with cholesterol, and did not associate significantly with age at death. These results demonstrate the potential utility of allostatic load for exploring long-term stress and health risks, as well as for evaluating environmental stressors for gorillas and other nonhuman primates in captivity and in the wild.
Photo credit: Columbus Zoo