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EleFact Friday: Pregnancies in Captivity

RanaLast week’s EleFact focused on elephant pregnancies and birth in the wild. This week, for EleFact Friday, we’re going to delve a little deeper into reproduction in captivity and the impact it can have on calves and their mothers.

We’ve made clear our sanctuary stance on the topic of breeding in captivity (which you can read here: https://globalelephants.org/elefact-friday-reproduction-in-captivity/). But there are further ethical dilemmas to captive breeding besides perpetuating the cycle of captivity. According to a study from the University of Sheffield, there can be long-lasting negative effects on the reproduction of Asian elephants that were wild caught and kept in captivity. 

According to their data, Asian elephants caught in the wild and kept in captivity are less likely to reproduce in their lifetimes than those who live their entire lives in the wild. If they do have babies, they begin later in life than they otherwise would in nature. Researchers also found that calves born to captured mothers have reduced survival rates until around the age of 5. This is reinforced by the number of elephants inseminated at zoos where the calf does not survive or only survives for a short amount of time. 

Professor Virpi Lummaa, who participated in the study, said, “The key thing that we found here is that the negative effects of taking animals out of the wild can last for decades, and have knock-on effects for generations in captivity.” Even if truly natural conditions could be recreated, the struggle to reproduce remains. The stress that is created by the capture of an individual can negatively impact the entire reproductive process – from fetus development, to social interactions, to body condition and emotional wellness. 

The study reinforces the idea that human disturbance of natural elephant populations has immediate consequences not only for mortality and reproduction, but possibly even evolutionary consequences. 

For more information, you can read the study here: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2018.2810#d1e632

Photo of Rana walking through tall grass in the habitat

Comments(8)

  1. REPLY
    Kenneth B. Newman says

    You may not want any babies born at GSE, but you could at least make a better effort to have male elephants at GSE. I think female/ male companionship is important, regardless of any direct interaction between the elephants. WHY haven’t you made any effort to bring Tamy and the male African Elephants to GSE? Are there any MORE male Asian elephants in South America in circuses or in zoos which should be transported to GSE?
    Is money the BIGGEST reason that NO more elephants have been brought to GSE? I wish I could help in that regard, but I am under employed and can’t help with any donations. I just wish to see those elephants who your organization considers still in captivity to be brought to their forever home…..

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Money is not the biggest issue when it comes to Tamy. As has been the case for some time, Mendoza has to train him on the proper behaviors he will need to meet permit requirements. We continue to wait on that and the accompanying permits before he can be transported to ESB.

  2. REPLY
    SHEILA says

    I WAS ALSO WONDERING ABOUT TAMY. GUILLIES DADDY. I THOUGHT VET INGO DID SOME TRAINING A FEW YRS AGO READYING HIM FOR TRANSPORT BACK THEN. PLUS THE 2 AFRICANS PUKEY AND KUKEY? IM WONDERING HOW PLANS R DEVELOPING FOR THEM TO REHOME AT BES? APPRECYATE SOME DEATAILS IF POSSIBLE. THANKS

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Ingo began Tamy’s training a couple of months ago but is no longer there. We are still waiting on permits for all of the elephants. You can read the most current info here
      https://globalelephants.org/current-progress/

  3. REPLY
    Jessica says

    Guille arrived in May 22. Why did it take almost 2 years to begin training Tamy?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      hi jessica. kenya, kuky, and pupy, were always supposed to arrive first, so making sure they were prepared for transport was a priority. adjustments had to be made to the old enclosure that Pocha and Guille were in because it was not strong enough for a male elephant. this took some time to happen at the ecoparque because of staff, approval, budget, etc. and while the ecoparque initially chose to bring Ingo in to begin training with Tamy, because of his trust issues and no exposure to positive reinforcement training, he will need something more stable for him to make any progress. we had suggested someone from Argentina to do the training, and only recently has the ecoparque given approval for this. he was in musth at the end of the year, into the beginning, and he tends to be aggressive during this time, so not a good time to do any training. as far as we know, training has still not started. unfortunately, none of this is in our control or our decision to make. this is all up the ecoparque and this is the timeline things have ended up under. the information we are sharing is all we know. feel free to reach out to ecoparque mendoza with more detailed questions about his training and timeline. they are the only ones who will be able to provide you with that information. thanks

  4. REPLY
    Sara says

    This brought back memories of the zoo in Seattle and what they put one of the elephants there through with artificial insemination. Very bad situation and a tragic ending, in my opinion. Have zoos stopped trying to have calves born in captivity or have they learned better?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      they need to continue to have babies because the population is getting too old to sustain itself. it is part of why they imported wild elephants from Africa. they don’t breed well in captivity, so they found a loophole to bring in wild ones.

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