Review Article

Use of anti-gonadotropin-releasing hormone vaccines in African elephants (Loxodonta africana): A review

Hendrik J. Bertschinger, Imke Lueders
Bothalia | Vol 48, No 2 | a2320 | DOI: | © 2018 Hendrik J. Bertschinger, Imke Lueders | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 October 2017 | Published: 30 July 2018

About the author(s)

Hendrik J. Bertschinger, Department of Production Animal Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Imke Lueders, Department of Anatomy and Physiology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


Background: Androgen-related aggressive behaviour and musth cause serious problems in captive African elephant bulls and often lead to human and animal injuries, and damage to property.

Objectives: To review the work carried out with anti-gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) vaccines to control androgen-related behaviour and fertility in captive and free-ranging elephant bulls and the induction of anoestrus in elephant cows.

Method: In the first study, an anti-GnRH vaccine from Pepscan was tested in six bulls (four captive and two free-ranging). Once the vaccine Improvac® became available, the effect on behaviour, the reproductive organs and semen quality was tested. Improvac® was also used to attempt induction of anoestrus in elephant cows.

Results: The first study proved that aggressive behaviours are significantly associated with increased faecal androgen concentrations. Musth (n = 1) and aggressive behaviour (n = 2) were down regulated and correlated with a decline in faecal androgen concentrations. Aggression and musth could be controlled with Improvac® (600 µg), but were more consistent when the dose was increased to 1000 µg administered every five to six months. The same dose down regulated testicular function and bulls (n = 17) were rendered infertile within 12 months after commencement of treatment. Initial attempts to induce anoestrous with 600 µg in free-ranging elephant cows gave inconclusive results, but 1000 µg in captive cows delivered five-monthly was successful.

Conclusion: The treatment of elephant bulls with Improvac® resulted in the successful down-regulation of androgen-related behaviour and sperm production in captive and wild elephant bulls of various ages (≤ 34 years). Preliminary studies to induce anoestrus in cows with Improvac® appear to be successful.


African elephants; anti-GnRH vaccine; behaviour; aggression; androgens; semen; ultrasound; reproductive organs; anoestrus


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Crossref Citations

1. Effects of an anti‐gonadoliberin releasing hormone vaccine on testicular, epididymal and spermatogenic development in the horse
Alma E. Botha, Martin L. Schulman, John Birrell, Lizette du Plessis, Peter N. Laver, John Soley, Ben Colenbrander, Henk J. Bertschinger
Reproduction in Domestic Animals  vol: 57  issue: 8  first page: 919  year: 2022  
doi: 10.1111/rda.14141