A news blog for Seattle's Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods


Zoo tries again to artificially inseminate elephant Chai

June 9th, 2011 · Comments

The Woodland Park Zoo yesterday performed an artificial insemination procedure on Chai, the zoo’s 32-year-old Asian elephant. The zoo says the semen used for the procedure was from a 13-year-old bull at Albuquerque Biological Park Zoo. It will be about 15-16 weeks before the zoo can confirm if Chai becomes pregnant from the procedure. The gestation period for elephants is 22 months.

Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.

From the zoo’s press release:

Chai has been inseminated with this proven technique during nine ovulation cycles since 2005 but only one has resulted in a pregnancy. The pregnancy, in 2008, unfortunately ended in an early miscarriage, which is not uncommon in mammals, especially during the first trimester.

“Artificially inseminating an elephant is a technique that enhances animal welfare,” said Dr. Nancy Hawkes, the zoo’s general curator and resident expert in elephant reproduction. It’s enriching for the herd to include calves and this technique allows us to help females get pregnant without needing to transport them to another institution that houses bulls, spending months away from their home and social group.

“The new technology was developed less than 20 years ago by scientists at Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research of Berlin,” explained Hawkes. “Because female elephants have a very complex reproductive system, we combine endoscope-guided technology with precise hormonal and ultrasound data to pinpoint ovulation and time the procedures accordingly.” More than 20 elephant calves have been born over the last 10 years through artificial insemination.

“A baby would help us begin to re-build a multigenerational social group here at the zoo,” said Hawkes. Chai was the mother of Hansa, a female elephant who was born at the zoo in 2000 and died unexpectedly at 6½ years old from a newly discovered elephant herpesvirus.

As elephants in the wild continue to face extreme pressure from conflicts with humans, elephants in zoos are effective conservation ambassadors for their cousins in the wild. “As the pressures of habitat loss and human-elephant conflicts continue to escalate at an alarming rate, the role of zoos is more critical now than ever before,” said Marc Ancrenaz, director of the Hutan Asian Elephant Conservation project. “In zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, elephants play an important role as conservation emissaries. Seeing, hearing, and experiencing these striking animals up close can help zoo-goers make an emotional connection and be inspired to take action to protect elephants in the wild.”

The group called Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants today issued its own press release, stating that the risk of passing along the herpesvirus again was too great.

From Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants’ press release:

WPZ is a herpes-infected environment. WPZ’s records for Watoto dated May 5, 2008 state Watoto tested “positive for EEHV3a virus in her blood.”

Dr. Jennifer Conrad, DVM, an expert elephant veterinarian said: “Woodland Park Zoo is a herpes exposed facility and therefore the zoo should no longer engage in an Asian elephant breeding program. The simple truth is the risk of death for the offspring is too great.”

There is no cure for EEHV and WPZ has no infection control in place. Chai could pass the herpesvirus to her own fetus.

Elephant herpesvirus attacks the internal organs causing massive hemorrhaging and a painful, gruesome death. “To even take a chance of causing another defenseless calf such a horrific death is unconscionable and unethical” says Nancy Pennington, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants. Herpesvirus is not a threat to wild elephants.

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  1. Neighbor says:

    It is irresponsible to impregnate elephants against their will. Really, we should be shipping them to Missouri, Japan and other hard-hit areas so they can help tow garbage: http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/circus-elephants-help-clean-up-joplin/f3402ad5b2bfadec0d6cf3402ad5b2bfadec0d6c-995688645745?q=elephant+joplin.

    If God did not want them to pull their own weight — literally — He literally would not have given them the option of doing so. Think about it people!!

  2. MonkeyPilot says:

    That is quite an elaborate insemination facility!

  3. Lisa says:

    Hmm, photo of the artifical insemnation of an elephant vs. two elephants doing it… yeah right, errgh and TMI on both counts!

  4. Fnarf says:

    I dunno about you guys, but I know I’M turned on.

  5. Jesse says:

    Neighbor, do you know the meaning of the word literally?

  6. Tahomajim says:

    Fnarf— Down boy, you get turned on too easy.

    Lisa, I agree with you…. but hey, Chai is used to a arm up her …….. a horny bull elephant might not be to her liking at her age. I’ve been married for 30+ years so I’m educated as we’ve done it sll…. and then some.

    Fnarf… down boy! ———- sheesh!

  7. Whopper says:

    “It is irresponsible to impregnate elephants against their will. ”

    Does ‘no means no’ work in the wild too?

  8. Kristen says:

    The photo is a lil TMI

  9. Lisa says:

    “Is that an arm up your sleeve, or are you just pleased to see me?”

    Sorry – couldn’t resist that one!!

  10. Marianne says:

    And these poor elephants are forced to sacrifice their entire lives so “people” like you can have an occasional two minute stare. Chai has been driven insane by the moral degenerates at the zoo who control her life.

  11. Stupid Hippie says:

    Mariane, I feel your pain. So does my dog.

  12. Tahomajim says:

    @10 Marianne,

    Quest6ion #1 – Are you suggesting no life is better then the pampered (yes confined) life at the WPZ?

    Question #2 – You have pets? Cat, pooch, gold fish.

    Question #3 – If yes, don’t you control their lives?

    Be honest please.

  13. Marianne says:

    Severely confining elephants isn’t “pampering” them. Their lockup is the equivalent of locking a person up in a small closet their whole life. Elephants are migratory, social animals that wander over hundreds of miles. This treatment shows complete disrespect for their species. You cannot compare a domesticated cat or dog to an animal that is wild and migratory. Educate yourself, please.

  14. Tahomajim says:

    Marianne, I am educated, you’re woman whose been brainwashed by the Hohenwald people.

    Confining a dog or cat to an apartment is equal to elephants at the zoo. And yes, they are pampered. They are well fed, warm showers, with safe outside activities. If you’re going to harp on the zoo about elephants then do the same for all animal owners. WPZ elephants are not wild….. the only home they know is the zoo.

  15. Marianne says:

    Tahomajim you are a “man” who has been brainwashed by the zoo. You, like them, are living in the 19th Century. Duh.

  16. Tahomajim says:

    No my dear, you are the one living in the past. I live in the 21st century.

    I know from many past posts anti zoo people MUST have the final word.

    So being the gentleman I am, I’ll write, have at it.

    I will post no more forever on this thread.

  17. Marianne says:

    How about making the same promise on ALL threads. We need up-to-date thinking on issues like this. Any calf Chai has will be infected with herpes like Hansa. Do you want to read about another baby elephant’s death? I don’t think most people do.

    Now remember, you promised not to post. anymore.

  18. Cindy Wines says:

    I have been to PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) Ssanctuary many times and it is wonderful. It is 2500 acres of open space, grass, trees, ponds to swim in. Having 3 elephants on one acre is torture. Now that Watoto is in solitary confinement, it IS like a human being stored in a cupboard. It is so unfair. They treat them with brutality, they are NOT pampered. They need to spend 15 or 20 Million to expand and build a new facility or send them to PAWS. Guess what, the tax payers would pay for this expansion. Are the elephants worth it? Yes, can the taxpayers and city afford this expense, NO. Send them to freedom where they will not be forcefully raped (poor Chai) or continue this cycle of abuse. Give UP the elephants and your greedy pride and think what is good for the elephants. Freedom, other elephants to roam with and lots of grass and trees!!!