Dr. Janine Brown, head of the Endocrine Research Laboratory at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, is running an elephant reproduction program at the National Zoological Park.
In her studies she discovered that captive elephants begin their ovarian cycles far earlier than wild elephants. An Asian elephant in the wild reaches puberty around age twelve. However, in captivity, many start before age five.
By taking regular urine and blood samples, she is better able to predict fertility. The zoos are then able to manage their elephant population, either by separating bulls from females, or by encouraging a match.
Since 2003, Dr. Brown has also worked with the The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. This orphanage is important and rare in Asia – unlike most parks in the region, the elephants do not have mahouts. They are able to live quite freely. The orphanage is home to over eighty elephants.