Review Article

Use of anti-gonadotropin-releasing hormone vaccines in African elephants (Loxodonta africana): A review

Hendrik J. Bertschinger, Imke Lueders
Bothalia | Vol 48, No 2 | a2320 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/abc.v48i2.2320 | © 2018 Hendrik J. Bertschinger, Imke Lueders | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 October 2017 | Published: 30 July 2018

About the author(s)

Hendrik J. Bertschinger, Department of Production Animal Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Imke Lueders, Department of Anatomy and Physiology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Androgen-related aggressive behaviour and musth cause serious problems in captive African elephant bulls and often lead to human and animal injuries, and damage to property.

Objectives: To review the work carried out with anti-gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) vaccines to control androgen-related behaviour and fertility in captive and free-ranging elephant bulls and the induction of anoestrus in elephant cows.

Method: In the first study, an anti-GnRH vaccine from Pepscan was tested in six bulls (four captive and two free-ranging). Once the vaccine Improvac® became available, the effect on behaviour, the reproductive organs and semen quality was tested. Improvac® was also used to attempt induction of anoestrus in elephant cows.

Results: The first study proved that aggressive behaviours are significantly associated with increased faecal androgen concentrations. Musth (n = 1) and aggressive behaviour (n = 2) were down regulated and correlated with a decline in faecal androgen concentrations. Aggression and musth could be controlled with Improvac® (600 µg), but were more consistent when the dose was increased to 1000 µg administered every five to six months. The same dose down regulated testicular function and bulls (n = 17) were rendered infertile within 12 months after commencement of treatment. Initial attempts to induce anoestrous with 600 µg in free-ranging elephant cows gave inconclusive results, but 1000 µg in captive cows delivered five-monthly was successful.

Conclusion: The treatment of elephant bulls with Improvac® resulted in the successful down-regulation of androgen-related behaviour and sperm production in captive and wild elephant bulls of various ages (≤ 34 years). Preliminary studies to induce anoestrus in cows with Improvac® appear to be successful.


Keywords

African elephants; anti-GnRH vaccine; behaviour; aggression; androgens; semen; ultrasound; reproductive organs; anoestrus

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