Variation in the composition of milk of Asian elephants throughout lactation

Source: Zoo Biology, 2012, advance e-alert
We investigated milk nutrient composition from three Asian elephant cows over the first 3 years of lactation, including two consecutive lactations in one cow. Body mass gain is presented for three calves during the first year.
Milk samples (n = 74) were analyzed for dry matter (DM), fat, crude protein (CP), sugar, ash, calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K); gross energy (GE) was calculated. Concentrations of most nutrients changed over lactation: DM, fat, CP, Ca, P, and GE were positively correlated to calf age; sugar was negatively correlated to calf age. GE doubled between birth (1 kcal/g) and 2 years of age (2 kcal/g). After accounting for calf age, GE, fat, Ca, and P concentrations differed among the cows. Milk composition also differed between two lactations from the same cow. When milk nutrients were expressed on a mg per kcal basis, the pattern changes: CP, Ca, and P remained relatively constant over lactation on a per energy basis. Calf mass quadrupled over the first year of life; mass gain was linear at 0.9 kg/day. Asian elephant milk composition is variable, both across lactations and between cows, complicating efforts to determine representative values for comparative studies and for the formulation of elephant milk formulas. The fact that CP, Ca, and P were all relatively constant when expressed on a per energy basis may be of biological significance. The increase in nutrient density over lactation undoubtedly limits maternal water loss, reducing the volume of milk necessary to support the calf.

Title: Variation in the composition of milk of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) throughout lactation.

Authors: Abbondanza FN, Power ML, Dickson MA, Brown J, Oftedal OT

Source: Zoo Biology, 2012, advance e-alert