Musth Variation Among Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus): Applications for Conservation
Human–elephant conflict threatens Asian elephant survival and is prevalent in Sri Lanka. Male elephants are frequent crop-raiders, especially during musth. Despite its importance in reproduction, musth is poorly understood in this species. This project will bridge the gap between in-situ and ex-situ elephant populations by studying musth in Sri Lanka and in United States zoo Asian elephant populations—measuring behavioral, physiological, and acoustic responses—to provide context for in-situ and ex-situ management strategies. Observations of behavioral changes during musth will include social, feeding, and locomotor behaviors. Fecal samples will be collected to analyze testosterone, corticosterone, and T3 metabolites associated with musth. Acoustic recording will occur to identify unique musth vocalizations. These data will be integrated with social and environmental information to identify factors that result in musth plasticity. This critical information will help understand how male Asian elephants respond behaviorally and physiologically to changing environments and contribute to more effective in-situ conservation efforts and management of ex-situ elephant populations.