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National Zoo Elephant Research Milestones

The National Zoo’s Asian Elephant Science and Conservation Program works to save Asian elephants and the natural habitats they require for survival. For nearly 40 years the Zoo has pioneered efforts to study, understand, and protect Asian elephants, both in the wild and in zoos.

Unique and exceptional science programs clearly establish the National Zoo as a leader in Asian elephant conservation, and the breadth and depth of our scientific expertise is evident from our established track record including:

  • Undertaking the first—and one of the most comprehensive—elephant ecology and behavior studies ever conducted. These studies were in the late 1960s to early 1970s in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
  • Pioneering the use of satellite-tracking to study wild Asian elephants—world leadership that continues today as we use this technology to better understand how much space wild elephants require for survival.
  • Discovering the life-threatening herpes virus that infects juvenile Asian elephants in zoos and in the wild. Our scientists also developed the only available diagnostic tests to detect this viral infection.
  • Conducting the first genetic studies demonstrating the evolutionary history of Asian elephants and identifying distinct subpopulations for conservation.
  • Developing the endocrine techniques that were essential for reliably producing elephant offspring by artificial insemination.
  • Groundbreaking landscape ecology studies leading to the first comprehensive assessment of how much habitat remains for wild Asian elephants.
  • Creating and implementing non-invasive genetic techniques that allow us to identify individuals elephants—an important tool for monitoring wild elephant populations.