Fiona Stansfield - clinical embryologist and andrologist for Alfalab, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Fiona's study for an MSc Clinical Embryology (Leeds) is “Ovarian Ageing in Wild African Elephants”. This study impacts on three potential areas of interest:

  1. Length of human reproductive life (elephants, humans and whales are the only mammals with an extended period of reproductive life – elephants reproduce into their 5th decade while humans start to fail in their 3rd)
  2. Contraception for wild elephants (the impact of chemical contraceptives on the ovarian reserve)
  3. Further study of poor reproductive potential in captive elephants (these animals rarely reproduce after their 2nd decade)

For this study fresh ovarian samples are being collected from elephant hunts and prepared for microscopic analysis.  The number and size of follicles present in sections of the ovary are being counted and related to the age of the elephant cow.  From this data an initial theory for the follicular dynamics of the elephant ovary can be proposed. To obtain the necessary data for age estimation, measurements of height and length are made on the carcass and the lower jaw is photographed and molars measured.

Due to the ban on culling, only limited reproductive histological data has been available from elephants since 1980's.  I am deeply grateful to Charlton McCallum Safaris for their help in obtaining the necessary samples and data which have made this study possible.

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