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Keywords:

  • African elephant;
  • Asian elephant;
  • asymmetric reproductive againg;
  • contraception;
  • reproductive anatomy;
  • reproductive disorder;
  • reproductive medicine;
  • ultrasonography

Elephants possess many unique qualities, including some that relate directly to their reproductive biology. Thus, comparative studies on elephants provide valuable information to the growing biological database for extant mammals. Left undisturbed, Asian Elephas maximus and African Loxodonta Africana elephants reproduce well in the wild. It is ironic then that most captive populations face possible‘extinction'because of historically poor reproductive performance. Some of the problems with breeding elephants in captivity are logistical but others, like ovarian and uterine pathologies and bull infertility, have management-related aetiology. Through advances in endocrine monitoring and ultrasound imaging techniques, we are beginning to understand some of the complex mechanisms controlling reproductive function in elephants. Several reproductive characteristics appear to be unique to the taxon, such as luteal steroidogenic function, follicular development patterns, pituitary gonadotrophin secretion, a 22 month-long gestation and musth (in ♂♂). One example is the‘double LH surge'occurring 3 weeks apart during the follicular or non-luteal phase of the cycle, with only the second surge inducing ovulation. These qualities have at times both enhanced and hampered efforts to understand and control reproduction. We have learned that techniques developed for domestic or laboratory species are not always directly applicable to elephants. However, the recent success of artificial insemination based on new ultrasound and endocrine methodology offers hope that establishing selfsustaining populations is possible. This paper reviews our current knowledge of elephant reproduction and how it is being used to aid species conservation for maximal reproductive efficiency and enhancement of genetic management.