Successful artificial insemination of an asian elephant at the national zoological park

Janine L. Brown, Frank Göritz, Nancy Pratt-Hawkes, Robert Hermes, Marie Galloway, Laura H. Graham, Charlie Gray, Susan L. Walker, Andres Gomez, Rachel Moreland, Suzan Murray, Dennis L. Schmitt, Jo Gayle Howard, John Lehnhardt, Benjamin Beck, Astrid Bellem, Richard Montali, Thomas B. Hildebrandt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For decades, attempts to breed elephants using artificial insemination (AI) have failed despite considerable efforts and the use of various approaches. However, recent advances in equipment technology and endocrine-monitoring techniques have resulted in 12 elephants conceiving by AI within a 4-year period (1998-2002). The successful AI technique employs a unique endoscope-guided catheter and transrectal ultrasound to deliver semen into the anterior vagina or cervix, and uses the "double LH surge" (i.e., identifying the anovulatory LH (anLH) surge that predictably occurs 3 weeks before the ovulatory LH (ovLH) surge to time insemination. This study describes the 6-year collaboration between the National Zoological Park (NZP) and the Institute for Zoo Biology and Wildlife Research (IZW), Berlin, Germany, that led to the refinement of this AI technique and subsequent production of an Asian elephant calf. The NZP female was the first elephant to be inseminated using the new AI approach, and was the fifth to conceive. A total of six AI trials were conducted beginning in 1995, and conception occurred in 2000. Semen was collected by manual rectal stimulation from several bulls in North America. Sperm quality among the bulls was variable and was thus a limiting factor for AI. For the successful AI, semen quality was good to excellent (75-90% motile sperm), and sperm was deposited into the anterior vagina on the day before and the day of the ovLH surge. Based on transrectal ultrasound, ovulation occurred the day after the ovLH surge. Pregnancy was monitored by serum and urinary progestagen, and serum prolactin analyses in samples collected weekly. Fetal development was assessed at 12, 20, and 28 weeks of gestation using transrectal ultrasound. Elevated testosterone measured in the maternal circulation after 36 weeks of gestation reliably predicted the calf was a male. Parturition was induced by administration of 40 IU oxytocin 3 days after serum progestagens dropped to undetectable baseline levels. We conclude that AI has potential as a supplement to natural breeding, and will be invaluable for improving the genetic management of elephants, provided that problems associated with inadequate numbers of trained personnel and semen donors are resolved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-63
Number of pages19
JournalZoo Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004


  • Assisted reproduction
  • Hormones
  • LH
  • Pregnancy
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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