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INTEGRIS Bennett Fertility Institute Shares Expertise with OKC Zoo for Upcoming Elephant Birth - 2011

Posted by Diana Jones on 05/10/2011

NTEGRIS Bennett Fertility Institute Shares Expertise with OKC Zoo for Upcoming Elephant Birth

 

            A unique partnership pairing the INTEGRIS Bennett Fertility Institute and the INTEGRIS Foundation with the Oklahoma City Zoo is providing invaluable expertise to the Zoo’s elephant conservation program. With the imminent birth of the first elephant in the Zoo’s history coupled with the Zoo’s commitment to this magnificent animal’s future, planning and extensive preparations have been underway to insure the best possible health care for the mom and calf.

            A birth protocol was established during the years that the Asian elephants visited the Tulsa Zoo for breeding and the new Elephant Habitat was being constructed. After a 22 month gestation, Asha will give birth this spring. Her sister Chandra is not pregnant. Plans to insure the best possible outcome for this very important occasion, including pinpointing the actual date of birth as best as possible are very important. “When an elephant’s progesterone level drops to a baseline, we know that she is probably going to give birth within 3 to 5 days,” said Dr. Jennifer D ‘Agostino, Director of Veterinary Services for the Zoo. “This knowledge helps our elephant and veterinary teams be on round-the-clock standby to assist Asha and her newborn with no delays.”

            So, how do you detect progesterone levels dropping in a 3 to 4 ton mammal? Through specialized blood tests. The elephant keepers spend quality time with the Zoo’s elephants working on training and positive reinforcement for many functions such as being able to draw blood. Blood draws are taken from the elephant’s ear and then samples are initially processed in the Zoo’s lab but beyond that the Zoo doesn’t have the proper equipment to further test the blood serum. Dr. D’Agostino continues, “After research, I discovered that the Bennett Fertility Institute had the only local lab with equipment sensitive enough to run the elephant progesterone test. This is incredibly helpful as we need these results every day during the last month of the pregnancy.” Before this discovery, tests could only be sent to the Smithsonian National Zoo but this meant a 2 to 3 day delay in receiving results. Dr. David Kallenberger, Program Director for the Bennett Fertility Institute has been instrumental in overseeing this partnership with the Zoo. “This is my first elephant patient, although many years ago I assisted the zoo with some gorilla infertility issues,” said Dr. Kallenberger. “It is our pleasure to work with the Zoo and help them further their conservation efforts.”

How does the process work? Serum is delivered daily to the Bennett Fertility Institute lab. The serum is then run through the radioimmunoassay machine which indicates the progesterone levels. This test is the last test run of the day. The machine is cleaned after every human serum test and there is never any cross contamination from these samples. The machine automatically cleans itself between every test. After the last test of the day, there’s an even more extensive cleaning process overnight.

            “Our team is extremely grateful to Dr. Kallenberger, the Bennett Fertility Institute and the INTEGRIS Foundation for their expertise and generosity on behalf of our elephant breeding program,” said Zoo Executive Director Dwight Scott. “The future of Asian elephants is challenged by many threats to their survival and while partnerships between the human medical community and zoos isn’t unheard of, it’s very special and critical in cases such as this.”

The Zoo's dedication to the care of its elephants, and the protection of wild elephants, is key to our mission. We support vital conservation work in Asia that protect elephants and their habitat, reducing human⁄elephant conflict and incorporating the talents of the people who live in their midst. Our Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, a network of 210 of the finest zoos and aquariums in North America, all committed to animal well-being and conservation. We provide our elephants with excellent nutrition, exercise, veterinary care and environmental enrichment. Learn more about how we care for elephants, our network of professionals, our new stat-of-the-art habitat and the important work we support globally to save some of the most majestic and awe–inspiring animals on earth at www.okczoo.com.

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