Potential of a gonadotropin-releasing hormone vaccine to suppress musth in captive male Asian elephants (Elephas maximus)

Chaleamchat Somgird, Pongpon Homkong, Supaphen Sripiboon, Janine L Brown, Tom A E Stout, Ben Colenbrander, Sittidet Mahasawangkul, Chatchote Thitaram

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    Musth in adult bull elephants is a period of increased androgen concentrations ranging from a few weeks to several months. For captive elephant bull management, musth presents a serious challenge because of the aggressive behavior of musth bulls toward people and other elephants. Commercially available GnRH vaccines have been shown to suppress testicular function by interrupting the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis in many species. The aim of this study was to test the efficacy of a GnRH vaccine in elephant bulls for suppressing the HPG axis and mitigating musth-related aggressive behavior. Five adult Asian elephant bulls (22-55 years old) were immunized with a GnRH vaccine starting with an initial injection 2-4 months before the predicted musth period, and followed by three boosters at approximately 4-week intervals. Blood samples were collected twice weekly for hormone and antibody titer analysis. An increase in GnRH antibody titers was observed in all bulls after the second or third booster, and titers remained elevated for 2-3 months after the final booster. Musth was attenuated and shortened in three bulls and postponed completely in two. We conclude that GnRH vaccination is capable of suppressing symptoms of musth in adult bull elephants. With appropriate timing, GnRH vaccination could be used to control or manage musth and aggressive behavior in captive elephant bulls. However, more work is needed to identify an optimal dose, booster interval, and vaccination schedule for complete suppression of testicular steroidogenesis.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)111-120
    Number of pages10
    JournalAnimal Reproduction Science
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2015


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