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Woodland Park Zoo tries again to artificially inseminate elephant Chai

The Woodland Park Zoo last night again performed an artificial insemination procedure on 32-year-old Asian elephant Chai.

Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.

From the press release:

Semen for the procedure was contributed by a 13-year-old bull at ABQ BioPark Zoo in Albuquerque, N.M. With no offspring to date, the bull is genetically valuable to the North American population of elephants.

“It will be approximately 15 to 16 weeks before we can confirm a pregnancy by ultrasound and through hormonal changes in Chai,” explained Dr. Nancy Hawkes, the zoo’s general curator and resident expert in elephant reproduction. The gestation period for elephants is 22 months. “If Chai is pregnant, we would expect her to give birth in late 2013.”

Dr. Dennis Schmitt, a leading expert in elephant reproductive physiology and a professor of animal science at Missouri State University, joined the zoo’s elephant management and animal health staff in performing the artificial insemination.

Chai has been inseminated with this state-of-the art and proven technique during 10 ovulation cycles since 2005 but only one has resulted in a pregnancy. “Her pregnancy in 2008, unfortunately, ended in an early miscarriage, which is not uncommon in mammals, especially during the first trimester,” said Hawkes.

Hawkes said that animal welfare is the principal goal of the zoo and its effort to inseminate Chai. “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,” said Hawkes.

Woodland Park Zoo remains committed to sustaining a genetically healthy population of elephants in zoos by participating in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for elephants.

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. “A baby would help us begin to re-build a multigenerational social group here at the zoo,” said Hawkes.

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