Excretory fate of estradiol and progesterone in the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and patterns of fecal steroid concentrations throughout the estrous cycle

Gen Comp Endocrinol. 1996 May;102(2):255-62. doi: 10.1006/gcen.1996.0067.


We developed and validated a noninvasive method to quantify fecal estrogens and progestins as a tool for monitoring long-term ovarian activity in free-ranging African elephants. The lag times between iv injection of [(3)H]estradiol and [(14)C]progesterone and peak excretion of radioactivity in urine and feces were approximately 4 hr and 48 hr, respectively. The majority of progesterone metabolites recovered was excreted in feces (55%) versus urine (45%), whereas comparatively little of the recovered estradiol metabolites were excreted in feces (5%) compared to urine (95%). Intrasample variation in fecal hormone concentrations was extremely high but could be substantially reduced by extracting well-mixed fecal powder from freeze-dried samples, taken from the central or premixed portion of the wet sample. This method resulted in a close correspondence between matched serum and fecal progestins (mean correlation = 0.81, range 0.61-0.94) collected from five nonpregnant adult females over a 7-month period. Fecal estrogen profiles were more ambiguous, tending to overlap with those of fecal progestins. We conclude that analyses of fecal progestins can provide an effective, noninvasive means of characterizing ovarian activity in free-ranging African elephants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Elephants / metabolism*
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Estradiol / metabolism*
  • Estradiol / pharmacokinetics
  • Estrus / metabolism*
  • Feces / chemistry*
  • Female
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Progesterone / pharmacokinetics
  • Radioimmunoassay


  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol