Now, with everybody reassured we can get down to serious things and go ahead, with our reason for being here: the breeding program, with precious help from the Elephant Conservation Centre, Sayaboury. Therefore, we would like to take this chance to introduce you to the different steps involved in an elephant breeding program.
Step 1: Discover each other
After being given a few days to rest and to get acquaintance with their surroundings, Mae Ping and Mae Bounma are introduced to Tong Khoun, the make progenitor at the Elephant Conservation Center. The first step is for our two females to get used to his presence, while our mahouts can observe their behavior from a distance. For their own security, our females were introduced and get to spend time with Tong Khoun individually. For elephants, the best method to get to know each other is by sniffing.
Step 2: Check the reproductive cycle
The most important factor of a breeding program is that the reproduction act takes place during the female's breeding cycle. Elephants' cycles are very long and complex. A female elephant is fertile for approximately 3 days every 4 months, the gestation period is approximately 2 years and they can give birth only once every 5 years. For elephants growing up and living in the wild, they can detect these periods. Unfortunately this is not the case for our elephants.
Facing the threat of declining elephants' population in Laos, it is essential for us to be capable of predicting an elephant's cycle . Normally, we need a minimum of 3 cycles (approximately twelve months) to be able to predict their future cycles. Therefore, after a year of taking blood samples and analysis, we have a rough estimation of our females' cycle and are confident that Mae Ping and Tong Khoun were paired together at the perfect timing. All of this is thanks to the gracious help of Annabel, the Elephant Conservation Center's biologist and their laboratory.
Step 3: Let the magic of nature begin
Once the male and female elephants are used to each other, and when the mahouts are assured with their interactions, we can let them move to the real subject: intimacy. For Mae Ping, this step took a bit longer than usual as she was anxious the first few times Tong Khoun tried to mount her. This is understandable as she had never seen or been through this situation before. Fortunately, once Mae Ping was reassured about Tong Khoun's intention and behavior, everything went according to plans and they were inseparable.
Step 4: Wait and Hope
After all the above mentioned steps are done, there is not much left to do but to wait and hope. The only method to find out if an elephant is pregnant is to wait until her next cycle and take a blood sample. Therefore, for Mae Ping, we will know in January!
Visually we will first notice a visible increase in size of her udders after six months, and in order to know that the mahout has to know his elephant extremely well. From what we were able to observe, Tong Khoun and Mae Ping had a very active time together, and that Mae Ping was right in the middle of her breeding cycle. All we can do now is to keep our fingers crossed!