The head of the Pittsburgh Zoo and elephant experts from around the world recently took the first step in creating an "elephant sperm bank" at the zoo's International Conservation Center in Somerset County. The center currently is home to Jackson, the most valuable breeding elephant in the United States. But according to zoo director Dr. Barbara Baker, Jackson is "over-represented genetically" and the sperm bank will help them enlarge the gene pool for elephants.
Recently Baker and the project team went to the Phinda Reserve in South Africa and collected semen from 15 bull elephants after they were tranquilized with darts from an open helicopter. Baker says the semen was frozen in liquid nitrogen and they believe it will be useful for an indefinite amount of time but no one has actually tried this before.
This semen will be used to inseminate elephants in Europe. They plan another trip to Africa in April as part of "Project Frozen Dumbo" to collect more samples for a sperm bank that will eventually be located at the conservation center. That sperm will be used to artificially inseminate female elephants in the U.S. and Canada.
Dr. Baker says this first of a kind effort could greatly impact breeding of elephants worldwide.