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Zoo artificially inseminates 32-year-old Asian elephant Chai

March 14th, 2011 · Comments

Last weekend, elephant management and animal health staff at Woodland Park Zoo artificially inseminated 32-year-old Asian elephant Chai.

Dr. Dennis Schmitt (standing, in maroon shirt), a leading expert in elephant reproductive physiology, helped the zoo’s elephant management and animal health staff artificially inseminate Chai. Photo by Dennis Dow, courtesy Woodland Park Zoo.

From the press release:

“The world’s leading experts on elephant health and breeding, including the Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan, recommend that we breed Chai again, by artificial insemination,” explained Dr. Nancy Hawkes, the zoo’s General Curator and resident expert in elephant reproductive physiology. “A baby would be socially enriching not only for Chai, but for the herd. A successful pregnancy and birth would help us begin to re-build a multigenerational social group here at the zoo.”

A 12-year-old bull at Albuquerque Biological Park Zoo contributed the semen. With no offspring to date, he is genetically valuable to the North American population of elephants.

The gestation period for elephants is 22 months. It will be approximately 15 to 16 weeks before the zoo can confirm a pregnancy by ultrasound and through hormonal changes in Chai. If she is pregnant, her due date will be in early 2013. The last artificial insemination procedure on Chai was done last year in June. It did not result in a pregnancy.

Only 30,000-50,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild, scattered across fragmented habitats in 13 Asian countries. The greatest threat to Asian elephants is habitat loss, which inevitably results in conflicts with farmers, villagers and plantation owners, resulting in human casualties and elephant deaths. Human-elephant conflict is the most widespread and difficult issue to tackle for elephants in Asia. Saving elephants requires a network of key players, including AZA zoos, conservation non-governmental organizations, government and international agencies, businesses, and range country elephant experts to collaborate and strategically work together.

Chai previously gave birth to a female, Hansa, in 2000. Hansa died suddenly 6-1/2 years later from a newly discovered elephant herpesvirus.

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