The objective of the present study was to define the secretion of prolactin (PRL) in pregnant African and Asian elephants. Levels of immunoreactive (ir-) PRL in serum and placental homogenates were measured by a heterologous radioimmunoassay (RIA) based on an ovine and human RIA system, and the localization of immunoreactive (ir-) PRL in the placenta was detected by immunohistochemistry using anti-human PRL. Circulating ir-prolactin clearly showed a biphasic pattern during pregnancy in African and Asian elephants. Serum levels of ir-PRL started to increase from the 4-6th month of gestation and reached the first peak level around the 11-14th month. A second peak of circulating ir-PRL levels was observed around the 18-20th month of gestation followed by an abrupt decline after parturition. In contrast, in a case of abortion of an African elephant, the second peak of ir-PRL was not observed, and the levels remained low for about four months until parturition. The weight of the fetus delivered at the 17th month of gestation was 23.5 kg, which was quite small compared with normal fetuses in previous reports. Ir-PRL was detected in placental homogenates, and immunolocalization was observed in trophoblasts in both the African and Asian elephants, indicating that the placenta is the source of ir-PRL during pregnancy in elephants. The present results clearly demonstrated that circulating ir-PRL shows a biphasic pattern during normal pregnancy and that the placenta appears to be an important source of circulating ir-PRL during pregnancy in both African and Asian elephants.