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Environment and reproductive dysfunction in captive female great apes (Hominidae)
  1. R. L. Bolton, BVMedSci1,
  2. N. J. Masters, MA, VetMB, MSc, MRCVS2,4,
  3. P. Milham, BSc3 and
  4. R. G. Lea, BSc, PhD1
  1. 1School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonnington Campus, Leicestershire, LE12 5RD, UK
  2. 2International Zoo Veterinary Group, Keithley Business Centre, South Street, Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD21 1AG, UK
  3. 3Twycross Zoo, East Midland Zoological Society, Atherstone, Warwickshire, CV9 3PX, UK
  4. 4Twycross Zoo, East Midland Zoological Society, Atherstone, Warwickshire, CV9 3PX, UK4
  1. Correspondence to R. G. Lea, e-mail: Richard.Lea{at}

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GREAT apes in captivity are subject to contraceptive regimes to control fertility in an environment that only approximates their habitat in the wild. The clinical caseload of one author (Masters N, personal communication) suggested that captive female great apes (Hominidae) experience a high incidence of pathological lesions of the reproductive tract and that some exhibit stereotypic or other behaviours indicative of stress. Understanding the effects of contraception and/or the physical environment on captive great apes is critical if the authors are to maximise reproductive management.

Various reproductive tract pathological lesions have been reported in non-human primates (NHPs). Congenital abnormalities occur with a similar incidence to the human being, affecting 0.3 to 0.9 per cent of births (Peterson and others 1997). In addition, endometriosis and adenomyosis produce pathological lesions and clinical signs similar to those experienced by women, including reduced fertility and pain (Binhazim and others 1989, Barrier and others 2007). By contrast, hydatidiform moles occur in women (Berkowitz and Goldstein 2009) but have not been diagnosed in NHPs.

Possible causative factors of these lesions include the long-term use of contraceptives for breeding management (Bourry and others 2005). Porton and Dematteo (2005) report the use of 40 different types of reversible contraceptives in NHPs including hormones; injections, subdermal implants, oral preparations, immunocontraceptives and mechanical methods. Since there have been no drug safety assessments for contraceptive use in species housed in zoos, there are potential risks (Munson and others 2005). These include progestin-associated cystic endometrial hyperplasia reported in Callitrichidae and Lemuridae along with diabetes and obesity in a variety of species (Munson and others 2005). There are also concerns that immunocontraceptives are irreversible and cause pathological lesions associated with persistently high steroid hormone levels (Munson and others 2005). The Association …

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