2017 Volume 79 Issue 3 Pages 524-533
Hand-reared elephant calves that are nursed with milk substitutes sometimes suffer bone fractures, probably due to problems associated with nutrition, exercise, sunshine levels and/or genetic factors. As we were expecting the birth of an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), we analyzed elephant’s breast milk to improve the milk substitutes for elephant calves. Although there were few nutritional differences between conventional substitutes and elephant’s breast milk, we found a large unknown peak in the breast milk during high-performance liquid chromatography-based amino acid analysis and determined that it was glucosamine (GlcN) using liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry. We detected the following GlcN concentrations [mean ± SD] (mg/100 g) in milk hydrolysates produced by treating samples with 6M HCl for 24 hr at 110°C: four elephant’s breast milk samples: 516 ± 42, three cow’s milk mixtures: 4.0 ± 2.2, three mare’s milk samples: 12 ± 1.2 and two human milk samples: 38. The GlcN content of the elephant’s milk was 128, 43 and 14 times greater than those of the cow’s, mare’s and human milk, respectively. Then, we examined the degradation of GlcN during 0–24 hr hydrolyzation with HCl. We estimated that elephant’s milk contains >880 mg/100 g GlcN, which is similar to the levels of major amino acids in elephant’s milk. We concluded that a novel GlcN-containing milk substitute should be developed for elephant calves. The efficacy of GlcN supplements is disputed, and free GlcN is rare in bodily fluids; thus, the optimal molecular form of GlcN requires a further study.