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29th May 2008 

International elephant reproduction specialists have praised Taronga's planning and preparation in the zoo's first attempt at Asian Elephant artificial insemination (AI), Zoo Director and Chief Executive, Guy Cooper, said today.

Mr Cooper said: "We are delighted to have begun the second phase of our breeding program under the regional Conservation Management Plan for Asian Elephants. We also pioneered, with the help of AQIS and Customs, the transfer of semen from a bull elephant in Singapore to increase the sustainability of the Australasian breeding herd."

The Berlin-based Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research's, Dr Thomas Hildebrandt, said: "The female was very well prepared and she willingly cooperated because under the management system used here, stress is not an issue."

"The procedure at Taronga is so developed and optimised that there is no discomfort for the animal. This is critical, because stress can reduce the success rate to zero."

Dr Hildebrandt and his team have participated in the over 20 successful AI pregnancies in elephants around the world and Taronga Elephant Manager, Gary Miller, has assisted in 10 births and has over 30 years experience with elephants."

Under Taronga Zoo's approved Cooperative Conservation Breeding Program for Asian Elephants, artificial insemination (AI) took place on May 27th and 28th with Taronga's 16 year old matriarch elephant, Porntip. The Berlin team and Taronga Elephant keepers had imported semen from bulls at Melbourne and Singapore Zoos.

The importation of semen and the AI activities were fully scrutinized by the Australian Government and mandated under the approved Australasian breeding program for the elephants which came from Thailand in 2006 and are classified as endangered.

Dr Hildebrandt said: "Taronga is also the first in the region to make it possible to transfer semen from other countries, improving the genetics for the entire region, which is quite important. This was very impressive management by Australian authorities which understand the risks of delay. This means genetic material for future AI programs can be brought from elephants in other countries without having to import the animals for breeding."

Dr Hildebrandt's team is regarded the world's best elephant reproductive biology team, and is also working with Taronga Western Plains Zoo on its ground-breaking IVF program for endangered Black Rhinoceros, which recently saw the first-ever collection of oocytes (eggs).

While in Australia, the Berlin team will visit Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo to continue the program of harvesting oocytes from their Black Rhino herd, established in 1993 in conjunction with the International Rhino Foundation to save the critically endangered species. Since then, 10 calves have been born.

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