AboutZoos, Since 2008


First ele­phant calf born after arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion using frozen sperm at Vienna Zoo

pub­lished 11 Sep­tem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 26 July 2014

On 4 Sep­tem­ber, after a lengthy ges­ta­tion period of 645 days, a calf was born to Vienna Zoo’s female African ele­phant, Tonga. It is the fourth birth of an African ele­phant (Lox­odonta africana) in Vienna Zoo, the coor­di­na­tor of the Euro­pean stud­book for African ele­phants. The new­born, a female calf, is Tonga’s sec­ond off­spring, but a very spe­cial one this time.

Elephant calf Viennazoo20130905World­wide, this lat­est birth is a sen­sa­tion. It is the first African ele­phant calf con­ceived through arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion using frozen semen. The father is a wild bull from the Phinda Gamer Reserve in Africa, who was placed under gen­eral anaes­the­sia for the collection.

Nowa­days, arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion as such is rou­tine in African ele­phant breed­ing — but only with fresh or chilled semen. But this time the cir­cum­stances required an advanced tech­nique, as the father is a wild bull from the Phinda Gamer Reserve in Africa. To trans­port the sperm of a wild bull from Africa to a Euro­pean zoo, it had to be frozen.

Unfor­tu­nately, ele­phant sperm is extremely sen­si­tive. Only two cases of arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion using frozen and thawed sperm had resulted in a fer­til­i­sa­tion so far, and both ges­ta­tions ended pre­ma­turely. The suc­cess­ful new tech­nique, which started with semen col­lec­tion of the wild bull under gen­eral anaes­the­sia, was devel­oped by a team from the Berlin Leib­niz Insti­tute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. And this new tech­nique allowed for suc­cess­ful freez­ing in Africa, trans­port and thaw­ing of the bull’s sperm at Vienna Zoo premises.

So, this new method is a great oppor­tu­nity regard­ing con­ser­va­tion efforts in cap­tiv­ity (ex-​situ). It can help strenghten genetic diver­sity of exist­ing lin­eages of cap­tive bred ele­phants. And hope­fully not only ele­phants but of other endan­gered species in cap­tiv­ity as well.

In the mean­time in Vienna Zoo mother and calf are doing very well. Tonga, the matri­arch of the Zoo’s herd is a devoted and car­ing mother, and also her first­born Mongu is very car­ing regard­ing her lit­tle step­sis­ter. Tonga and both her daugh­ters stay sep­a­rate from the rest of the herd the first few days to ensure some peace and quiet.

This new­born ele­phant is a pos­i­tive result of a suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Vienna Zoo and Berlin Leib­niz Insti­tute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Zooparc de Beau­val and Pitts­burgh Zoo.

(Source: Vienna Zoo — Tier­garten Schön­brunn press release, 05.09.2013)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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