ABSTRACT

Many captive Asian elephant populations are not self-sustaining, possibly due in part to obesity-related health and reproductive issues. This study investigated relationships between estimated body composition and metabolic function, inflammatory markers, ovarian activity (females only) and physical activity levels in 44 Asian elephants (n=35 females, n=9 males). Deuterium dilution was used to measure total body water from which fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM) could be derived to estimate body composition. Serum was analyzed for progestagens and estradiol (females only), deuterium, glucose, insulin and amyloid A. Physical activity was assessed by an accelerometer placed on the elephant's front leg for at least 2 days. Relative fat mass (RFM) – the amount of fat relative to body mass – was calculated to take differences in body size between elephants into consideration. Body fat percentage ranged from 2.01% to 24.59%. Male elephants were heavier (P=0.043), with more FFM (P=0.049), but not FM (P>0.999), than females. For all elephants, estimated RFM (r=0.45, P=0.004) was positively correlated with insulin. Distance walked was negatively correlated with age (r=−0.46, P=0.007). When adjusted for FFM and age (P<0.001), non-cycling females had less fat compared with cycling females, such that for every 100 kg increase in FM, the odds of cycling were 3 times higher (P<0.001). More work is needed to determine what an unhealthy amount of fat is for elephants; however, our results suggest higher adiposity may contribute to metabolic perturbations.

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