Dietary management, husbandry, and body weights of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) during successful pregnancies at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Kathleen Sullivan, Katherine Kerr, Rachel Wanty, Bryan Amaral, Francisco Olea-Popelka, Eduardo Valdes
Zoo Biology
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Successful pregnancy in African elephants is influenced by biological and environmental factors. For managed elephants many of these factors are set directly or indirectly by their human care takers, including nutrition and husbandry. While African elephants often struggle to conceive and produce healthy offspring under human care, Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) has effectively managed six gestations to fruition in three cows. Despite differences between mothers in terms of BW and growth curves during gravidity, each pregnancy successfully resulted in the birth of a healthy calf. Body weight (BW) gain during pregnancy ranged from 245 to 558 kg. Obesity in elephants is associated with increased occurrence of dystocia and mortality of the fetus and mother, hence understanding normal weight gains is an integral concept. Diet (dry matter basis) included high levels of fiber throughout pregnancies (60–70% neutral detergent fiber), vitamin E supplementation (116–214 mg/kg diet of alpha-tocopherol), as well as low levels of starch (2.5–5.1%) and crude fat (1.9–2.4%). Caretaker directed exercise during pregnancy at DAK served to prevent ventral edema, and increase muscle tone to prepare cows for parturition. Demonstrating techniques for effective care of pregnant females, as well as normal growth curves and fluctuations under ex situ conditions are necessary for future positive outcomes. Ensuring reproductive success through proper husbandry and nutrition are a key to long-term conservation of elephants. Zoo Biol. 35:574–578, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


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