July 4, 2014
Unlocking The Secrets Of Body Fat To Save Captive Elephants
Gerard LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A new study from researchers at the University of Nottingham explains that the future health and survival of captive elephants could be determined by the first molecular characterization study of the African elephant’s body fat.
Captive Asian and African elephants in Europe and North America cannot maintain their population due to poor fertility. Less elephant babies are being born in captivity and if the trend continues, captive elephants will become extinct within the next 50 years.
This new study, conducted at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, will form a building block for future studies to help scientists with the health, diet and reproduction of captive elephants. It will also aid in the management of these creatures in the wild.
Lead researcher Dr. Lisa Yon and her colleagues, Dr Nigel Mongan, Dr Richard Emes and Dr Allison Mostyn published a paper -- Molecular Characterization of Adipose Tissue in the African Elephant -- in the journal PLOS ONE.
The team used unique samples from the African elephant and studied them with molecular biology and bioinformatics at the Nottingham Vet School. Important biological questions were answered giving the team a better understanding of elephants.
Leptin is a hormone that is made by fat cells to regulate the fat content stored in the body. This hormone is a crucial link between nutrition, amount of body fat and fertility in many species, and, as the research revealed, it plays a similar role in the elephant.
“This research provides important information on the structure and function of adipose tissue in the African elephant, highlighting the crucial genes and nutrients present during different times of life -- particularly reproduction and lactation,” Yon said.
Body fat plays a key role in reproduction, energy sensing and regulation, along with inflammatory responses. Being linked to the onset of puberty and maintaining reproductive function, it becomes an important part of the elephant’s health and fertility.
By maintaining the health and fertility of the captive elephants, it would eliminate the need to capture wild animals to sustain the captive population.
“The information we gained can help us to know how to better provide for elephants' dietary needs, and what possible impact this may have on their reproductive success. These same methods can be applied to further our understanding on a range of domestic or non-domestic species,” Yon added.
No elephants were killed for this study and the samples were obtained from a managed organized culling operation in Save Valley Conservancy (SVC) in Zimbabwe between 2009 and 2011.