Written by: Núria Fandos Esteruelas – Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences

I am a PhD student at Hedmark University of Applied Sciences, Campus Evenstad, in Norway. I enrolled the PhD programme in Applied Ecology in 2014. My PhD thesis is entitled “Capture and handling in brown bears (Ursus arctos). An assessment of stress and short- and long-term effects on physiology and behavior”. Although capture and handling of wild mammals are required for conservation, research and management purposes, they can have potentially negative long-lasting consequences for the animals involved. This fact makes the use of non-invasive techniques an alternative that is becoming more and more popular. These non-invasive techniques can be applied to different types of tissues (e.g., faces, urine, hair, saliva, feather, etc.). Furthermore, they offer the possibility of assessing wildlife health through the measurement of hormones (e.g., stress hormones, reproductive hormones). Last October, I was fortunate to attend the 9th Summer School on “Non-invasive Monitoring of Hormones” in Pretoria, South Africa, which was organized by the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Pretoria, and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), in Germany.

This one-week course was didactically divided into three parts: theory, laboratory work, and lectures. We usually had an introductory lecture in the morning covering the basics of sample collection and storage, hormone classification, structure and nomenclature, reproductive and adrenocortical function, and techniques for hormone extraction. The last two days were allocated to establish a very enriching discussion about the potential pitfalls of the techniques, and interpreting the results obtained during the week.

The lectures were followed by laboratory tasks related to the topic from the morning lecture. In groups of two people, we gained practical experience in the techniques of non-invasive monitoring of hormones, such as sample workup preparation and performance of enzyme immunoassays. The teachers and lab technicians were available at any time to solve any questions or doubts. Also, we worked with samples from free-ranging or captive wild animals that had been previously analysed at the Endocrinology Laboratory of the University of Pretoria or the IZW. So, we could compare the results and see how well or bad we had performed.

When the lab work was finished, we had a break for dinner which was based on typical South African food. We made a Braai (barbecue) as a goodbye dinner. And, we even learnt some words in Afrikaans (one of the eleven official languages in the country).

After dinner, we had lectures given by researchers using endocrine studies in their work (e.g. studies on African lesser bush baby, giraffes, etc.). It was nice to see the advantages and drawbacks of the techniques we used in the lab when applied to real settings.

And all of that was wrapped in an amazing setting, and nice people!

I would like to thanks IRSAE for this opportunity and recommend this course to all PhD students!