CZAAWE Resource Article

Assessment of testicular endocrine function in captive African elephants by measurement of urinary and fecal androgens
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Zoo Biology
Abstract 10.1002/zoo.10034.abs Androgen measurements in urine and/or feces represent a potentially important tool for monitoring testicular endocrine function in the African elephant. To assess the feasibility of this approach, the aims of the present study were to: 1) examine the presence and relative abundance of immunoreactive testosterone (iT) and its 5α-reduced 17-oxometabolite epiandrosterone (iEA) in African elephant excreta, and 2) compare urine and fecal androgen profiles in animals of different ages and during the musth and non-musth condition. Urine and fecal samples were collected over periods of up to 3 years from five bulls (ages 7–24 years) living in three mixed social groups. In parallel, indications of musth were recorded by keeper staff as an independent marker of male androgen status. Measurements of iT and iEA were carried out by enzymeimmunoassay (EIA) following methanolic extraction of hydrolyzed urine and lyophilized fecal powder. High-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) of musth phase samples confirmed the presence of substantial quantities of testosterone (T) and epiandrosterone (EA) in both urine and feces. EA was predominant in feces, whereas T was more abundant in urine. In each male, the two androgen measures were significantly correlated (feces, r = 0.71–0.93, P < 0.0001; urine, r = 0.86–0.91, P < 0.0001), as were fecal and urinary concentrations of each of the two androgens measured (r = 0.35–0.77, P < 0.0001). Moreover, in the two oldest males that showed clear signs of musth, levels of iEA and iT were markedly elevated during musth compared to non-musth periods (differences were significant for feces in both animals, but in urine only for one). Collectively, the data show that measurement of urinary and fecal androgens generates useful information on gonadal status in male African elephants, and as such should provide new opportunities to improve the management and welfare of bulls maintained in captivity, as well as to examine physiological correlates of reproductive function in free-ranging animals. Zoo Biol 21:27–36, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.