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Dec 6, 2012

Prospective Management Changes to Improve Captive Care and Welfare of Asian Elephants

Relationship between management, adrenal activity and reproduction in a captive group of female Asian elephants Elephas maximus

Asian Elephants in captivity can be prone to reproductive problems including acyclicity and asymmetric reproductive ageing. A better understanding of potential influences on reproductive cyclicity is warranted to maintain healthy and sustainable captive herds. Routine reproductive monitoring on a group of five reproductive-age females revealed that oestrous cycles were highly synchronised. However, a 15- week period of acyclicity occurred in three females, coinciding with a number of management changes, and the conception of two group members. The aim of this study was to retrospectively investigate whether management factors were associated with increased adrenal activity and subsequent suppression of ovarian activity; or whether the conception of individuals in this highly synchronised group might better explain the cessation of cyclicity. Faecal samples were collected every other day for a 16-month period and analysed for faecal glucocorticoid (fGC) and progesterone metabolites by enzyme immunoassay. Routine training and foot care were not associated with any change in adrenal activity; however, intensive foot care was associated with an increase in adrenal activity in one female. Matriarch presence influenced adrenal activity in three adults but neither the sub-adult nor juvenile. In the three females that exhibited a period of acyclicity there was no consistent relationship between fGC and reproductive state. However, prior to the acyclic period a dominant female conceives, followed by a second individual during the acyclic period. This study provided evidence to support prospective management changes to improve the captive care and welfare in a group of captive Asian Elephants.


Chester Zoo

WINNER of BIAZA Awards 2012 for Best Research Project

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