Chemical signaling is a prominent mode of male-female communication among elephants, especially during their sexually active periods. Studies on the Asian elephant in zoos have shown the significance of a urinary pheromone (Z7-12:Ac) in conveying the reproductive status of a female toward the opposite sex. We investigated the additional possibility of an inter-sexual chemical signal being conveyed through dung. Sixteen semi-captive adult male elephants were presented with dung samples of three female elephants in different reproductive phases. Each male was tested in 3 separate trials, within an interval of 1-3 days. The trials followed a double-blind pattern as the male and female elephants used in the trials were strangers, and the observer was not aware of the reproductive status of females during the period of bioassays. Males responded preferentially (P< 0.005), in terms of higher frequency of sniff, check and place behavior toward the dung of females close to pre-ovulatory period (follicular-phase) as compared to those in post-ovulatory period (luteal-phase). The response toward the follicular phase samples declined over repeated trials though was still significantly higher than the corresponding response toward the non-ovulatory phase in each of the trials performed. This is the first study to show that male Asian elephants were able to distinguish the reproductive phase of the female by possibly detecting a pre-ovulatory pheromone released in dung.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests , Govt. of India, New Delhi. We thank the Forest Departments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu State Governments for providing research permission; Dr. Kavita Isvaran for her unstinted help during the statistical analyses of the data; Dr. N. Kalaivanan, Assistant Veterinary Surgeon, Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary for his generous help during the sampling period and K. Bomman for his help and support in the field.
- Asian elephant