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PLoS One. 2011 May 2;6(5):e19314. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019314.

Long-term monitoring of fecal steroid hormones in female snow leopards (Panthera uncia) during pregnancy or pseudopregnancy.

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Faunal Diversity Sciences, Graduate School of Agriculture, Kobe University, Nada-ku, Kobe, Japan.


Knowledge of the basic reproductive physiology of snow leopards is required urgently in order to develop a suitable management conditions under captivity. In this study, the long-term monitoring of concentrations of three steroid hormones in fecal matter of three female snow leopards was performed using enzyme immunoassays: (1) estradiol-17β, (2) progesterone and (3) cortisol metabolite. Two of the female animals were housed with a male during the winter breeding season, and copulated around the day the estradiol-17β metabolite peaked subsequently becoming pregnant. The other female was treated in two different ways: (1) first housed with a male in all year round and then (2) in the winter season only. She did not mate with him on the first occasion, but did so latter around when estradiol-17β metabolite peaked, and became pseudopregnant. During pregnancy, progesterone metabolite concentrations increased for 92 or 94 days, with this period being approximately twice as long as in the pseudopregnant case (31, 42, 49 and 53 days). The levels of cortisol metabolite in the pseudopregnant female (1.35 µg/g) were significantly higher than in the pregnant females (0.33 and 0.24 µg/g) (P<0.05). Similarly, during the breeding season, the levels of estradiol-17β metabolite in the pseudopregnant female (2.18 µg/g) were significantly higher than those in the pregnant females (0.81 and 0.85 µg/g) (P<0.05). Unlike cortisol the average levels of estradiol-17β during the breeding season were independent of reproductive success.The hormone levels may also be related to housing conditions and the resulting reproductive success in female leopards. The female housed with a male during the non-breeding season had high levels of cortisol metabolites and low levels of estradiol-17β in the breeding season, and failed to become pregnant. This indicates that housing conditions in snow leopards may be an important factor for normal endocrine secretion and resulting breeding success.

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