Effects of GnRH vaccination in wild and captive African Elephant bulls (Loxodonta africana) on reproductive organs and semen quality
van der Horst, Gerhard
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OBJECTIVES: Although the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some isolated habitats in southern Africa, contraception is of major interest due to local overpopulation. GnRH vaccination has been promoted as a non-invasive contraceptive measure for population management of overabundant wildlife. We tested the efficacy of this treatment for fertility control in elephant bulls. METHODS: In total, 17 male African elephants that were treated with a GnRH vaccine were examined in two groups. In the prospective study group 1 (n = 11 bulls, ages: 8±36 years), semen quality, the testes, seminal vesicles, ampullae and prostate, which were all measured by means of transrectal ultrasound, and faecal androgen metabolite concentrations were monitored over a three-year period. Each bull in the prospective study received 5 ml of Improvac® (1000 μg GnRH conjugate) intramuscularly after the first examination, followed by a booster six weeks later and thereafter every 5±7 months. In a retrospective study group (group 2, n = 6, ages: 19±33 years), one examination was performed on bulls which had been treated with GnRH vaccine for 5±11 years. RESULTS: In all bulls of group 1, testicular and accessory sex gland sizes decreased significantly after the third vaccination. In six males examined prior to vaccination and again after more than five vaccinations, the testis size was reduced by 57.5%. Mean testicular height and length decreased from 13.3 ± 2.6 cm x 15.2 ± 2.8 cm at the beginning to 7.6 ± 2.1 cm x 10.2 ± 1.8 cm at the end of the study. Post pubertal bulls (>9 years, n = 6) examined prior to vaccination produced ejaculates with viable spermatozoa (volume: 8±175 ml, sperm concentration: 410-4000x106/ml, total motility: 0±90%), while after 5±8 injections, only 50% of these bulls produced ejaculates with a small number of immotile spermatozoa. The ejaculates of group 2 bulls (vaccinated >8 times) were devoid of spermatozoa. Faecal androgen metabolite concentrations measured in captive males decreased significantly after the fourth vaccination. None of the males entered musth during the treatment period. CONCLUSIONS: Our results showed a marked decrease in semen quality, testicle and secondary sex gland sizes following repeated GnRH vaccinations. After 2±4 years of continuous treatment every 5±7 months, the effects were similar to surgical castration.