Schoenbrunn zoo has a long tradition in keeping elephants starting in 1770. Since then, the Vienna zoo bears the challenge of keeping this ambitious animals under human care. In 1992, an elephant managing program (Pechlaner and Schwammer, 2002)had been created and with the opening of the new elephant house and outdoor enclosure in 1996 encompassing 7300m2, an progressive breeding program had been developed to achieve a self-sustainable breeding group of African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana).
The new concept passes on chains and trenches and bestows a high degree of enrichment possibilities (Schwammer 1997, 2000b), which managed to reduced the stereotypic behaviour of the cow “Jumbo”, who grew up in the old enclosure, from 45% to 0,5% in the new facility (Karapanou 2000).
The overall goal was natural reproduction but the bull, who arrived in 1997 from the Basel zoo being 5 years of age, proved to be too young. In order to avoid waiting until the cows were too old, the decision was made to artificially inseminate the by then 14 year old female “Sabi”.
The first successful artificial insemination (AI) in an African elephant in Europe has been accomplished at the Vienna Zoo in 1999 (Hildebrand et al. 1999, 2000, 2001; Schwammer 2001, Schwammer et al. 2001) by the expert team (Hildebrandt TB, Göritz F, Fritsch G, Hermes R.) from the IZW Berlin in close collaboration with the Veterinary University of Vienna (Schwarzenberger F, Institute for Biochemistry). Sabi gave birth to the bull calf Abu on April 25, 2001.
The most important factor to the successful insemination was the tolerance of the AI candidate herself, "Sabi". The non-surgical insemination technique, which had been developed and patented at the IZW Berlin, required 1/2 - 2 hours steady standing on four specially made AI stands. The fact that the insemination procedure was tolerated by "Sabi" unchained and non-sedated, rewarded long term training efforts of both the animal and the elephant handlers (Schwammer and Riddle, 1999). This teamwork enabled "Sabi" to support the insemination process by reflectory contractions of the uterus at the moment of semen deposition, transporting the semen actively deep into her genital tract (Hildebrandt et al. 1999).
Artificial insemination projects require high developed training programs (Schwammer 2000a). In addition to the daily routines this new approach to progressive reproduction-related programs have set up the need for specific training routines for elephants and keepers. After the successful program sequence, the education of our elephant keepers, the design and the accomplishment of the training programs, the performance of the AI and finally the first successful birth, it stood to reason to hand on our experiences.
Another incitement was the often insufficient care of elephants under human care in Europe. Proper elephant management involves daily skincare, foot care, medical examination, an overall check of physical condition, sufficient exercise, and activities that stimulate mental processes. Mainly due to the lack of the education of keepers as well as curators, veterinarians and zoo managers, it still happens today, that elephants need to be euthanized because of food problems.
Even in Asia, were people handle elephants for several thousand years, such basic problems do exist.
This facts encouraged us to develop a team of troupers which organises and accomplishes Elephant Management Workshops in Vienna and Asia.