Medical management of postpartum problems in an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) cow and calf

Suzan Murray, Mitchell Bush, Lisa A Tell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


An 18-yr-old female Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) gave birth to a 120-kg female calf following 22 mo of gestation. Immediately after parturition, the cow became agitated and aggressive towards the calf. Before the keepers were able to safely intervene and remove the calf, the cow stepped on the calf's head and right front leg. Within 30 min, the cow calmed down, allowing the calf's safe reintroduction under close keeper supervision and control. The cow had a retained placenta, poor mammary development, and low milk production. The calf's injuries, in combination with the cow's low milk production, impeded the calf's ability to nurse and gain weight. Within 10 days, the calf lost 10% of its weight. Serum protein electrophoresis indicated failure of passive transfer of maternal immunoglobulin. On day 10, the calf received a transfusion of concentrated immunoglobulin extracted and concentrated from the cow's previously banked plasma. On day 13, the calf developed a urinary tract infection, as diagnosed by white blood cells and bacteria in the urine. Following immunoglobulin administration and antibiotic therapy, clinical signs slowly resolved and the calf gained weight. The cow passed the fetal membranes during parturition, but the placenta was retained. Despite prophylactic systemic antibiotics and vaginal flushing, the cow became depressed and developed a leukocytosis and an anemia. A mucopurulent vaginal discharge and ventral edema were noted on day 3, and milk production was minimal. Because decreased milk production has been reported as a common sequel to retained placenta, efforts were focused on removing the placenta. Intermittent oxytocin therapy on days 2-14 did not result in expulsion of the placenta and produced only transient abdominal contractions and minimal increases in milk letdown. On day 15, 10 mg estradiol cypionate was administered i.m. followed by 200 IU oxytocin i.v. An additional 10 IU oxytocin was administered i.v. on day 16. The friable placenta was palpable within the vaginal vault on day 17. The remaining placenta was removed by gentle traction applied by a modified weighted blood pressure cuff. Once the placenta was removed, the cow's clinical problems slowly resolved and the calf continued to gain weight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-258
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1996


  • Asian elephant
  • Elephas maximus
  • Immunoglobulin
  • Passive transfer
  • Retained placenta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • veterinary(all)


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