Keeper intuition about animal demeanor is a vital tool for maintaining the health and wellbeing of zoo animals, as well as the safety of the keepers. This is certainly evident in zoo management of bull African elephants. The Birmingham Zoo is a pioneer in this area, managing four bulls as a bachelor group. Selection of appropriate bulls for this type of management is critical to success, and this project unlocks the intuition of senior elephant keepers using objective, quantitative ethological methods to characterize social dispositions of bull elephants. This project evaluates if social disposition, particularly dominance, and changes in the level of elephant cooperation during training have predictable relationships with serum testosterone and glucocorticoid concentrations. If so, this project will 1) provide behavioral and endocrine tools that enable proactive management to avoid elephant-elephant aggression and unsafe human-elephant situations, 2) reveal if bachelor group management is an appropriate way to maintain African bull elephants, and 3) help managers to identify a well-socialized bull that is desirable for an all-bull management scheme.
Additionally, SEZARC is studying the relationships between semen quality and dominance, androgens, and glucocorticoids. We are also optimizing a protocol for cryopreservation of African elephant semen using an advanced piece of equipment, a directional freezer. This equipment facilitates a very controlled freezing process, which helps to maintain the integrity of the fragile sperm. This project as a whole is an excellent example of the variety of services SEZARC can offer its members, including integration of zoo staff in hypothesis-driven research, execution of research projects using valid scientific methodology and state-of-the-art equipment, endocrine and fertility evaluations of individual animals, and genome resource banking.
If you are interested in supporting SEZARC studies, please contact us.