Breeding elephants in the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala village (EOP) is successful with the average of 2 calves per year during 1984-2007 from 24 female elephants. When a male is available in the herd, this male can be utilized to detect the females in heat. A male follows such a female and shows some reproductive behavior, such as the smelling of the genital area, the mouth and the urine of the female with the tip of its trunk. He also presses on the back of the female and even tries to mount it. Some cows in heat refuse feed offered in the evening. Also, when released from tethering to the grassland the next morning, they approach bulls and even try to move towards males in musth that are separately tethered. When a female is in heat, the particular male will be determined to breed the estrous cow. However, more than one male is always allowed to mate with a female to ensure mating success. Selecting a suitable male for mating is also important in order to prevent inbreeding in successive generations. At EOP, the average age at first calving was 14.5 years, and the calving interval varied from 2 to 12 years with a mean of 4.8 years. Although calvings were recorded during all months in a year, 67% of calves were born during the five month period of June to October. This might be the stimulation of ovarian activity and mating about 22 months earlier, which coincides with the North-East monsoonal rains during October to December. The high rainfall results in abundant green vegetation, which could influence reproductive activities in both captive and wild elephants.
Western zoos concern more on the captive breeding program since importation of new animals from range countries has been increasingly difficult since mid-1980s, thus, animals born in captivity have become crucial to sustain the population. The major 2 problems with regard to breeding are well addressed 1) a failure of female conception rate or low number of calves produced per cow in her life time 2) the high calf mortality from still birth and maternal infanticide. A great effort and expense has been implemented to breed a low but increasing numbers of elephants. One of the plausible factors of low birth rate in zoos is that they are incapable to handle the males due to the aggression, particularly during musth period. Therefore, just a few breeding bulls are kept and breeding only occurs in the bull-containing zoos. Social ranking also caused the poor quality semen and suppressed the libido, which particular bulls can yield a number of calf born. Furthermore, for nulliparous females post 30 years old it is reported to have a higher incident rate of urogenital tract pathologies, and those after 35 years old or “post reproductive age” have a greater risk of dystocia and still birth. In addition, some aged cows exhibit irregular or non cycling. All of these factors have a high impact on fecundity rate and sustainable population of Asian elephants in western countries. Presently, artificial insemination (AI) is successful in breeding elephants with a promising result to increase the birth rate. This technique can help to minimize the bull-handling problems in zoos with less contact between both sexes, and also to sustain the population in a long term.