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RFD is the official journal of the International Embryo Transfer Society and the Society for Reproductive Biology.


Article << Previous     |         Contents Vol 22(7)

Ultrasonographically documented early pregnancy loss in an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)

Imke Lueders A D, Barbara Drews A, Cheryl Niemuller B, Charlie Gray C, Peter Rich C, Jörns Fickel A, Gudrun Wibbelt A, Frank Göritz A, Thomas B. Hildebrandt A

A Leibniz Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research, Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17, 10315 Berlin, Germany.
B Kingfisher International Inc., Conservation Biology Laboratory, 67 Edward Street, Stouffville, ON L4A 1A4, Canada.
C African Lion Safari, R.R#1, Cambridge, ON N1R 5S2, Canada.
D Corresponding author. Email: lueders@izw-berlin.de
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Early embryonic resorption or fetal loss is known to occur occasionally in captive elephants; however, this has mostly been reported anecdotally. The present study documents the case of a 24-year-old, multiparous Asian elephant cow that suffered embryonic death and resorption at around 18 weeks of gestation. From ovulation onwards, this female was sonographically examined 58 times. Blood was collected twice weekly for progestagen determination via enzyme immunoassay. On Day 42 after ovulation, a small quantity of fluid was detected in the uterine horn, which typically indicates the presence of a developing conceptus. Repeated inspections followed what appeared to be a normal pregnancy until Day 116. However, on Day 124, signs of embryonic life were absent. Progestagen concentrations started declining two weeks later, reaching baseline levels one month after embryonic death. Retrospectively, ultrasound examination revealed several abnormalities in the uterine horn. Besides an existing leiomyoma, multiple small cystic structures had formed in the endometrium at the implantation site and later in the placenta. These pathological findings were considered as possible contributors to the early pregnancy failure. PCR for endotheliotropic elephant herpes virus (EEHV) (which had occurred previously in the herd) as well as serology for other infectious organisms known to cause abortion in domestic animals did not yield any positive results. Although no definitive reason was found for this pregnancy to abort, this ultrasonographically and endocrinologically documented study of an early pregnancy loss provides important insights into the resorption process in Asian elephants.

Keywords: abortion, embryo, leiomyoma, progestagens, resorption.

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