Glaeser, S. S., Hunt, K. E., Martin, M. S., Finnegan, M., and Brown, Janine L. 2012. "Investigation of individual and group variability in estrous cycle characteristics in female Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) at the Oregon Zoo." Theriogenology 78 (2):285-296. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.theriogenology.2012.01.014
Evaluating ovarian cycle activity through longitudinal progestagen monitoring is important for optimizing breeding management of captive elephants and understanding impact of life events (births, deaths, and transfers) on reproductive function. This study summarized serum progestagen profiles for eight Asian mainland elephants (Elephas maximus indicus) and one Bornean elephant (E. maximus borneensis) at the Oregon Zoo over a 20-yr interval, and represents the longest longitudinal dataset evaluated to date. Estrous cycle characteristics were more varied than previously reported for this species, with an overall duration of 12 to 19 wk, luteal phase duration of 4 to 15 wk, and follicular phase duration of 2 to 12 wk. In general, there was more cycle variability across than within individual elephants. Compared with other elephants in the group, the Borneo female exhibited consistently longer cycle lengths, higher progestagen concentrations, and greater cycle variability; however, it is not known if this represents a subspecies or an individual difference. Cycle durations did not appear to change over time or with age, and the first pubertal cycle was similar to subsequent cycles. Variability in duration of the follicular phase was greater than that of the luteal phase. In addition, there was a significant negative relationship between luteal and follicular phase durations, suggesting a possible regulatory role of the follicular phase in maintaining a relatively consistent cycle duration within individuals. Overall, we found these elephants to be highly resilient in that major life events (births, deaths, and changes in herd structure) had minimal effect on cycle dynamics over time. In conclusion, the higher range in cycle phase characteristics is likely because of the larger number of elephants studied and longer duration of longitudinal monitoring, and may be more representative of the captive population as a whole. Furthermore, identification of significant interanimal variability suggests that understanding the complexities of herd reproductive characteristics could facilitate development of more effective institution-specific breeding management strategies.