• parturition;
  • progesterone;
  • cortisol;
  • prolactin


Blood and urine samples were collected weekly from an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) for 10 months before conception, throughout pregnancy, and for 10 months after parturition. Additional daily samples were collected for 41 days before through 10 days after parturition to define endocrine events during the peripartum period. During gestation, serum progesterone concentrations increased gradually and, after ∼13 weeks, were higher (P < 0.05) than those observed during the nonpregnant luteal phase. Concentrations peaked at ∼12 months of gestation, gradually declined during the last month, and then decreased sharply to nondetectable levels 2 days before parturition. A 12 week lactational anestrus was observed before cyclicity resumed. The urinary profile of progestagen excretion paralleled that of circulating progesterone (r = 0.79; P < 0.05); however, radioimmunoassay of HPLC-separated fractions of urinary eluates indicated that this immunoactivity was not associated with native progesterone. After remaining basal through the first 16 weeks of gestation, serum prolactin concentrations increased to 100-fold about midterm and remained elevated until after parturition. Neither serum nor urinary cortisol concentrations were altered during pregnancy, but both increased markedly the day after parturition and remained elevated above prepartum levels for several weeks thereafter. These data indicate that analysis of serum prolactin can confirm pregnancy in the Asian elephant after ∼4 months of gestation and that daily monitoring of serum or urinary progestagens is useful for predicting parturition. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.1