Prolonged luteal lifespan and pseudopregnancy in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus)

Imke Lueders, Cheryl Niemuller, Hanspeter W. Steinmetz, Tim Bouts, Charlie Gray, Tobias Knauf-Witzens, Kazuyoshi Taya, Gen Watanabe, Yuki Yamamoto, Ann Kathrin Oerke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Pseudopregnancy is a physiological occurrence in mammals which have copulation induced ovulation, but is rarely described in spontaneous ovulating species. In this study, three cases of prolonged luteal lifespan are reported in non-pregnant Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). Case 1 was a 25-year-old female that had produced three calves previously; Case 2 was a nulliparous and 32-year-old at the start of the pseudopregnancy episode; and Case 3 occurred in a 49-year-old nulliparous elephant. Serum progesterone metabolite concentrations remained elevated for 10 months in Case 1. Urinary progestagens were high for >16 months in Case 2 and for five months in Case 3. In Case 1, multiple persistent corpora lutea were visualized monthly by ultrasonography. In all three cases, uterine leiomyoma were present and progestagen concentrations decreased spontaneously. In Case 1, the elephant became pregnant 3 years later, whilst with Case 2, the female resumed estrous cycling normally, and for the Case 3 female, there was continuation with another prolonged luteal phase before ovarian function was purposely suppressed. These examples indicate that persistently elevated progestagen concentrations may not always be indicative of pregnancy in elephants. The reasons for prolonged luteal lifespan are not understood, although serum prolactin concentrations quantified in the Case 1 female were elevated compared to values from previous reports and two other herd mates. Furthermore, all three elephants had varying degrees of uterine pathologies. It is believed that the resulting damage to the endometrium may have led to a reaction similar to implantation, which includes prolactin secretion. Prolactin may exert luteotropic properties and is thought to initiate luteal rescue during pregnancy in elephants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-66
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Reproduction Science
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Corpus luteum
  • Elephant
  • Leiomyoma
  • Pregnancy
  • Progesterone
  • Prolactin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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