Launching Australia’s Asian Elephant Breeding Program: Management of Reproduction, Pregnancy and Parturition in Five Nulliparous Cows
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2011
Larry Vogelnest1, BVSc, MVS, MACVSc; Michael Lynch2, BSc, BVSc, MVS, MACVSc; Frances Hulst1, BVSc, MVS; Kate Bodley2, BSc, BVSc, MVS; Helen McCracken2, BSc, BVSc, MVS; Tamara Keeley3, BSc, MB; Thomas B. Hildebrandt4, DrMedVet, MRCVS
1Taronga Zoo, Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Mosman, NSW, Australia; 2Melbourne Zoo, Zoos Victoria, VIC, Australia; 3Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Dubbo, NSW, Australia; 4Institute for Zoo Biology and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany
Eight Asian elephants were imported from Thailand to Australia in November 2006. Five cows produced healthy calves within 4 years of their arrival. These pregnancies and births provided an opportunity to obtain detailed data on reproductive parameters through behavioural and physical observations, serum progesterone analysis and ultrasound examinations. Through this process we were able to challenge and add to previously documented elephant reproductive parameters.
The success of an elephant pregnancy and birth relies on detailed planning, staff, visitor and media management and cooperation and coordination between and within zoo departments. Flexibility in management and less prescriptive plans allowing for adaptive changes based on actual circumstances and events is important. Decision making should be consultative and efficient to avoid prolonged debate that may impact on the cow and calf. Fit, healthy cows in appropriate body condition on a good plane of nutrition prior to and during pregnancy are important. Nulliparous elephants must be bred early (8–12 years). The management of individual cows during labour and parturition depends on individual circumstances however allowing more freedom and choice and the presence of other cows and calves appear advantageous. Regular ultrasound examinations are invaluable in assessing reproductive tract status and position of the calf leading up to parturition and guiding management decisions. Minimal disturbance and interference during labour, parturition and the immediate neonatal period appear advantageous.
Areas for further investigation include calcium status monitoring and management, factors that influence calf size, and transfer of immunity.
We thank Gary Miller (Taronga Zoo) and Dave McKelson (Melbourne Zoo) and their respective elephant teams and the many other people who contributed and participated in this program.