ENSURING FUTURE POPULATIONS
Here at Blackpool Zoo we do so much more than just display animals to visitors. We play a vital role in conservation, by breeding species at risk of extinction in the wild.
Of course, conservation work in the wild goes hand in hand with any breeding programmes, as to release animals back into the wild when there are so many threats to their existence would be counter intuitive. While work continues to ensure a safe wild future for these animals, it is important that we are working to build and maintain a genetically healthy population of animals as a back-up for endangered species.
When it comes to Asian elephants, we work with the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) Co-ordinator for elephants. It is their responsibility to keep track of every Asian elephant in Europe and make suggestions for breeding. The aim is to ensure as much genetic variation in the captive population as possible.
When the time comes to breed, it gets complicated! There's more to it than just putting a male and female together in the same enclosure and hoping for the best. The entire process is carefully managed to control numbers and to prevent inbreeding.
BREEDING FROM OUR HERD
Currently our herd is an all female group, so it goes without saying that we have no immediate plans for breeding. However, some of our elephants are very special and unique in terms of the genetic history - this means the EEP Coordinator is keen for us to breed. We're currently in discussions to find a suitable male elephant to join the herd with hopes of eventually being able to breed.
The challenge doesn't end when a male elephant arrives. Some of our female elephants are not suitable for breeding - primarily due to being either too young or too old - but there are measures we can take to ensure they won't end up pregnant. A lot of research has been done in recent years into the reproductive cycles of elephants. We now know that females come into season for a few days every 15-16 weeks. By closely observing and learning the cycles of our females, we can ensure that when a non-breeding female is in season she is not mixed with a breeding male to prevent any unwanted pregnancies.
The gestation period for an elephant is around 22 months, so even after a male arrives we'll still have a while to wait before we hear the pitter patter of tiny(ish) feet.