Original Research

Vaccination against GnRH may suppress aggressive behaviour and musth in African elephant (Loxodonta africana) bulls - a pilot study

H. M. De Nys, H. J. Bertschinger, J. A. Turkstra, B. Colenbrander, R. Palme, A. M. Human
Journal of the South African Veterinary Association | Vol 81, No 1 | a88 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/jsava.v81i1.88 | © 2010 H. M. De Nys, H. J. Bertschinger, J. A. Turkstra, B. Colenbrander, R. Palme, A. M. Human | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 May 2010 | Published: 03 May 2010

About the author(s)

H. M. De Nys,
H. J. Bertschinger,
J. A. Turkstra,
B. Colenbrander,
R. Palme,
A. M. Human,

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Abstract

Aggressive behaviour and musth are constant problems in captive and sometimes in free-ranging African elephant bulls. Aggressive bulls are difficult and musth bulls almost impossible to manage without severely restricting their movement either by leg-chaining or using tranquillisers. This study investigated the relationship between faecal androgen metabolites (FAM) and faecal cortisol metabolites (FCM) concentrations and aggressive behaviour and tested a GnRH vaccine as a means of down-regulating aggressive behaviour and musth in 1 free-ranging and 5 captive elephant bulls. The bulls were non-aggressive (n = 3), aggressive (n = 2) or in musth (n = 1) at the onset of the study. The bulls were injected with a GnRH vaccine-adjuvant combination 3 or 4 times at 3- to 7-week intervals. Behaviour, FAM and FCM concentrations were measured during every week prior to vaccination until 4 months after the last vaccination. FAM concentrations were positively correlated with aggressive behaviour before the 1st vaccination. Androgen production, as reflected by FAM concentrations, was down-regulated in 3 of the 6 immunised bulls. At least 2 bulls and possibly a 3rd showed behavioural improvement following GnRH vaccination and in all 3 temporal gland secretion ceased. No further aggressive behaviour was observed until the end of the study in any of the bulls. The results of this 1st GnRH immunisation study suggest that it could be a useful method to control aggressive behaviour and musth in African elephant bulls.

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