"An elephant AI takes a lot of effort and planning," he says. "You don't play around with this if you're not really sure that you have semen that can do the job."
Behavioral ecologist Michael Hutchins, executive director and CEO of the Wildlife Society, says a better method of preserving elephant semen could potentially boost the genetic variability of both captive and wild populations.
"It's important to be able to have access to a number of different males' reproductive cells to maintain genetic diversity," Hutchins says. Because elephants are so large, individual zoos cannot handle more than a few of them. As a result, the captive population tends to be geographically far-flung—making traditional mating options narrow. The availability of viable frozen—and therefore shippable—semen could help to eliminate that problem, Hutchins says.
And, Hermes adds, because frozen sperm can be screened for their chromosomal makeup, the approach also could allow zoos to better balance their ratios of males to females through sex-selected fertilization.