Skewed birth sex ratio and premature mortality in elephants


Sex allocation theories predict equal offspring number of both sexes unless differential investment is required or some competition exists. Left undisturbed, elephants reproduce well and in approximately even numbers in the wild. We report an excess of males are born and substantial juvenile mortality occurs, perinatally, in captivity. Studbook data on captive births (CB, n = 487) and premature deaths (PD, <5 years of age; n = 164) in Asian and African elephants in Europe and North America were compared with data on Myanmar timber (Asian) elephants (CB, n = 3070; PD, n = 738). Growth in CB was found in three of the captive populations. A significant excess of male births occurred in European Asian elephants (ratio: 0.61, P = 0.044) and in births following artificial insemination (0.83, P = 0.003), and a numerical inclination in North American African elephants (0.6). While juvenile mortality in European African and Myanmar populations was 21-23%, it was almost double (40-45%) in all other captive populations. In zoo populations, 68-91% of PD were within 1 month of birth with stillbirth and infanticide being major causes. In Myanmar, 62% of juvenile deaths were at >6 months with maternal insufficient milk production, natural hazards and accidents being the main causes. European Asian and Myanmar elephants PD was biased towards males (0.71, P = 0.024 and 0.56, P < 0.001, respectively). The skewed birth sex ratio and high juvenile mortality hinder efforts to help captive populations become self-sustaining. Efforts should be invested to identify the mechanism behind these trends and seek solutions for them.


Animal Science

Document Type





Conservation, Elephas maximus, Endangered species, Loxodonta africana, Reproduction

Publication Date


Journal Title

Animal Reproduction Science