Thursday, March 08, 2007
Inspired by a recent post on this exellent french blog I decided to look up recent findings in elephant research. When I attended the SSR meeting two years ago I came upon a poster which studied the homonal fluctuation in an elephant by taking blood samples every 30 mins for 24h. I felt sorry for the graduate student, because I've done that with mice and it's a pain, I can only imagine what it's like with a 4.5 tons elephant. Reproductive science in elephants is somewhat of a dangerous occupation : "just touching a jumbo penis – they measure more than 1.5metres when aroused – can have painful consequences as German scientist Dr Hildebrandt reveals. One guy I know got a black eye from being hit by an elephant’s penis. It’s a messy business as he massages Jackson’s prostate gland to produce 300ml of semen per orgasm – the equivalent of a can of Coke – which has to be airlifted in giant condoms across America to Christy". Science is also coming handy for conservation efforts. As more and more DNA samples are catalogued, it is now possible to test confiscated tusks from smugglers and determine their origins. What Wasser et al discovered is that the majority of the ivory from the 23 000 elephants killed last year came from Zambia, where it is estimated that the population decreased by up to 90%.