Zoo Participates in first successful Artificial Insemination using Frozen Sperm from Wild Bulls

(Pittsburgh) (2012)—History is being made in Vienna, Austria as news of the first-ever successful artificial insemination using frozen sperm collected from wild bull elephants was announced today.

Though artificial insemination in elephants has been performed before, the males were already in zoos. This is the first time that frozen sperm from a wild bull was used and the procedure resulted in conception.

“This is incredible news,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.  “The success of this procedure creates more opportunities to introduce new genetics into the African elephant population among zoo’s, diversifying the population and ensuring its ability to grow into the future.”

This success also highlights the intensive work performed by Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt, a well-known reproductive specialist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, to develop a program that would enable sperm to be collected and frozen—without damage to the collection—for later use. He titled his program, Project Frozen Dumbo.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is a partner in Project Frozen Dumbo. In April 2011, the Zoo joined Dr. Hildebrandt, researchers, and veterinarians, and journeyed to South Africa to examine and collect sperm from wild African bull elephants.  The group collected from 15 bulls and a portion of the collection was sent to the ZooParc DeBeauval in France.

In November, Dr. Hildebrandt worked with the Vienna Zoo to inseminate 26-year-old elephant Tonga. They used a sample from the collection sent to France and for the first time ever the procedure resulted in conception. An ultrasound confirmed that the unborn calf is strong and doing well and Tonga is now nine months into her 22-month long pregnancy. The calf is expected to be born in late 2013-early 2014.

“Project Frozen Dumbo is a major advancement in the care of animals around the world,” says Dr. Baker. “We are thrilled to be joining Dr. Hildebrant as pioneers in establishing a North American sperm bank at the International Conservation Center in Somerset and introducing new genetics into the aging African elephant population.”