Predictors of testosterone in zoo-managed male African elephants (Loxodonta Africana)

Kaitlyn M. Campbell, James A. Wilson, Kari A. Morfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Reproductive complications for both male and female zoo-managed African elephants (Loxodonta africana) contribute to the rapidly declining population. In zoo-managed bull elephants, few studies have explored the potential physiological, physical, social, and environmental factors that influence bull fertility, particularly, androgen production. Testosterone is the essential steroid hormone for male sexual maturation and inadequate concentrations can be detrimental for spermatogenesis. Testosterone, fecal glucocorticoid metabolites, leptin, glucose, insulin, and triglycerides were analyzed from weekly fecal and blood serum samples taken over 6 months from six zoo-managed African elephant bulls (10–19 years of age). Testosterone levels were compared to endocrine factors, weekly social and environmental variables, daily musth signs, and body condition scores (BCS). The glucose-to-insulin ratio (G:I) was the only physiological biomarker found to be positively associated with testosterone. Predictive physical variables included Musth Score (+) and Moderate Exercise (+). Bulls with BCS signifying overweight (BCS 4) had lower testosterone (36.6 ± 1.6 ng/g fecal extraction [FE]) than bulls with healthy BCS 3; 51.2 ± 4.9 ng/g FE). Numerous social variables influenced testosterone concentrations, including Total Contact Day (+), Female Interaction Day (+), Indirect Contact Day (+), Indirect Contact Night (+) and Total No Contact (−). Both percentage of Time Outdoor and Time Mixed positively influenced testosterone, whereas testosterone decreased for percentage of Time Indoors. Each additional daily browse opportunity increased testosterone by approximately 7 ng/g FE. In managed care, the emphasis should be placed on optimizing these predictors of testosterone production to promote bull reproductive health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-282
Number of pages15
JournalZoo Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • body condition
  • bull
  • hormones
  • musth
  • social

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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