Brown, Janine L. 2019. "Update on Comparative Biology of Elephants: Factors Affecting Reproduction, Health and Welfare." in Reproductive Sciences in Animal Conservation, edited by Comizzoli, Pierre, Brown, Janine L., and Holt, William V., 2nd ed. 243-273. Springer International Publishing AG. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-23633-5_9
Asian (Elephas maximus) and African (Loxodonta africana) elephants serve as important keystone, umbrella and flagship species. Despite that, population numbers are declining, due mainly to poaching and habitat destruction. Understanding reproductive mechanisms is vital to effective management, particularly insurance populations in captivity, and to that end, long-term biological databases are key to understanding how intrinsic and extrinsic factors affect reproductive function at individual and population levels. Through decades of hormonal and ultrasonographic monitoring, many unique aspects of zoo elephant reproduction have been identified, including differences in luteal steroidogenic activity, follicular maturation, pituitary gonadotropin secretion, fetal development and reproductive tract anatomy. Reproductive problems also hamper captive propagation efforts, particularly those related to abnormal or lack of ovarian cyclicity. Recent large-scale, multi-institutional studies and use of epidemiological approaches have identified factors important for good welfare and reproduction, which include enrichment, feeding diversity, good elephant-keeper relations, social compatibility, exercise, and not being obese. There are notable differences in reproductive mechanisms between Asian and African elephants, as well as the factors that influence reproduction and welfare, suggesting species-targeted management approaches are needed to maximize fitness. In the first edition, we discussed reproductive function in male and female elephants. Since then, a number of significant advances have been made primarily in female elephants, which will be the focus of this updated review.