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Anim Reprod Sci. 2009 Jul;113(1-4):322-7. doi: 10.1016/j.anireprosci.2008.07.003. Epub 2008 Jul 8.

Estrous synchrony in a group of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) under human care.

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  • 1Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Savoyenstrasse 1, Vienna 1160, Austria.


Synchrony of estrous, and consequently of conception and birth of young, may be of adaptive significance for certain mammals. Among the species in which estrous synchrony has been suspected several times are elephants, but clear evidence is still missing. We determined estrous cycles of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) (n=4) at the Vienna Zoo, Austria, between June 2003 and January 2006 by measuring serum progesterone levels from weekly blood samples. Except for the dominant female when she was intensively lactating, all animals showed clear cycles or progesterone release with a mean period of 105.3+/-15.37 days. For most of the study period, estrous cycles were asynchronous between females. However, after re-occurrence of the progesterone cycle in the dominant female following the first period of lactation, all four females showed high synchrony of progesterone release over the two subsequent cycles. Large changes in individual period lengths indicated that synchronization was due to the adjustment of cycle length in subdominants to that of the dominant female. We used a bootstrap procedure, based on resampling measured times of progesterone peaks, to determine if this apparent synchrony could have been caused by chance alone. This statistical analysis indicated that between-individual variances of the timing of progesterone peaks were much smaller that to be expected by chance (P=0.009). This finding represents the first evidence for estrous synchrony between elephants. We discuss various hypotheses to explain the biological function of cycle synchrony in elephants.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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