Asian Elephant Insemination Plan

2002/11/22 Kandula, Asian elephant, plays with ball, National Zoo, Washington, D.C.
Thai researchers will try to artificially inseminate a group of Asian elephants next month in a bid to boost numbers, a scientist working on the project said Tuesday.

They will use samples stored at an experimental elephant sperm bank and are monitoring the beasts to work out the right time for conception in the northern towns of Lampang and Chiang Mai, said Mungkorn Damyang of Kasetsart University.

The number of elephants the researchers will try to inseminate is uncertain, he said, but local reports quoted another scientist as saying they would attempt to inseminate 30 elephants.

The researchers from Kasetsart and Chiang Mai universities have tried unsuccessfully to artificially inseminate three elephants over the past four years, he said.

Thailand's elephant population has plummeted largely due to the destruction of the species' natural habitat. While some 100,000 ranged across the country at the beginning of the 20th century, less than 5,000 domesticated and wild elephants survive in Thailand today.

Last year, Thai veterinarians established an experimental elephant sperm bank, where samples are frozen.

For more than a decade, researchers worldwide have been unsuccessful in attempts to preserve elephant sperm by freezing it.

Researchers hope that one day the elephant sperm bank can assist in the survival not only of the rapidly dwindling global population of Asian elephants, now estimated to total 35,000-50,000, but also of the 500,000 African elephants whose numbers are falling largely because of ivory poaching.