In 2018, thanks to an Australian led private fundraising group and the Australian embassy, we were able to set up an Endocrinology laboratory in Sayaboury. Through the private donor group, the Australian Embassy and the Smithsonian Institute, one of our biologist was able to travel to the United States and be trained over three months in Endocrinology research. This is the first laboratory established in Laos for the purpose of conservation research. With this laboratory we will continue a partnership with the Smithsonian Institute, to further enhance our breeding programme as well as develop future studies on hormonal contributions to elephant behaviour.
Why do we need a Laboratory in Laos?
Female elephants are fertile only 1-4 days every 4 months, so to time breeding correctly is critical. Another problem is that elephants of both sexes often exhibit a lack of sexual interest. However, much of that may be because individuals are not put together at the right time. The need to breed captive elephants in Laos is particularly urgent because females are aging and can have complications. When they are older they become susceptible to uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts. These growths may prevent eggs to attach to the uterine lining.
The success or failure of any breeding program depends, in part, on using available technology to assess reproductive activity. Routine endocrine monitoring is now viewed as a valuable tool for making informed decisions about the management of elephants (J. Brown, Zoo Biology 19:347-367, 2000).
Our goal is to increase the number of elephant births in Laos. Until now, there were no laboratories in Laos where we could send our samples. For that reason, the Elephant Conservation Center have set up their own endocrinology laboratory, allowing our teams to monitor the oestrous cycle of the female elephants.