An aging population and jobless males
The Elephant Nursery is an innovative reproduction project led by Lao mahouts and the Center. When most of the elephants still worked in logging, owners didn’t want their charges to be pregnant. They couldn’t work the last months of the pregnancy and three years after the calve was born. As a result, the population in Laos has become older and older.
Male elephants are considered dangerous. They go in to a heightened hormonal state called musth. During this time, they can be very aggressive. When the logging industry declined, almost nobody wanted to take in bulls. Owners are under a lot of stress, as they can’t make a living anymore. Consequently, they turn to illegal practices like selling their elephants abroad, or worse, starving them so they can recover the ivory.
Breeding Captive with Captive
To make sure that we can reintroduce healthy social groups in to the wild, we needed to increase the birthrate. There are females in our herd that have the right age and are healthy enough to be pregnant. We also needed to take in different male elephants to avoid inbreeding.
It is important to us that the copulation happens naturally without giving stress to our elephants. We place them together in a large area with the possibility to seek refuge. Females only ovulate once every four months. Therefore, it is important that they spend time with males on a regular basis. The more they get used to their presence, the more likely it is that they will accept him as a mate.
What have we achieved?
Now we can proudly say that we have taken in 6 adult males. Since the project started we have had several successful sessions. In other words, our approach is working well. Unfortunately, we are not yet able to verify if we have a pregnant female. We need to do an ultrasound study to make sure. We will keep you informed!
We have younger elephants at the center. Some came with their mother, for others we had to find a surrogate. These elephants spend their nights in a part of the forest called “The Nursery”. We do this to make sure they don’t have to many impulses that can stress them. During the day we bring them to socialize with other members of the herd. In the end we want all our elephants to have their own family group.
The next step: breeding Captive with Wild
In Nam Phouy National Park, there are still wild elephants. Historically, elephant owners of the region would let their females roam around the area. Wild male elephants would be attracted to the ones in heat and come and pay them a little visit. This was a very effective technique. At the center, Mae Bounam, Mae Khian and Noy all have a wild father.
The Elephant Conservation Center is the only organization that has permission from the government to go in to the protected area. We will recreate the traditional breeding technique with our females in heat. By not only using the males at the center we can avoid inbreeding.