||Adult male elephants periodically show the phenomenon of musth, a condition associated with increased aggressiveness, restlessness, significant weight reduction and markedly elevated androgen levels. It has been suggested that musth-related behaviours are costly and that therefore musth may represent a form of physiological stress. In order to provide data on this largely unanswered question, the first aim of this study was to evaluate different assays for non-invasive assessment of adrenocortical function in the male African elephant by (i) characterizing the metabolism and excretion of [3H]cortisol (3H-C) and [14C]testosterone (14C-T) and (ii) using this information to evaluate the specificity of four antibodies for determination of excreted cortisol metabolites, particularly with respect to possible cross-reactions with androgen metabolites, and to assess their biological validity using an ACTH challenge test. Based on the methodology established, the second objective was to provide data on fecal cortisol metabolite concentrations in bulls during the musth and non-musth condition. 3H-C (1 mCi) and 14C-T (100 microCi) were injected simultaneously into a 16 year old male and all urine and feces collected for 30 and 86 h, respectively. The majority (82%) of cortisol metabolites was excreted into the urine, whereas testosterone metabolites were mainly (57%) excreted into the feces. Almost all radioactive metabolites recovered from urine were conjugated (86% 3H-C and 97% 14C-T). In contrast, 86% and >99% of the 3H-C and 14C-T metabolites recovered from feces consisted of unconjugated forms. HPLC separations indicated the presence of various metabolites of cortisol in both urine and feces, with cortisol being abundant in hydrolysed urine, but virtually absent in feces. Although all antibodies measured substantial amounts of immunoreactivity after HPLC separation of peak radioactive samples and detected an increase in glucocorticoid output following the ACTH challenge, only two (in feces against 3alpha,11-oxo-cortisol metabolites, measured by an 11-oxo-etiocholanolone-EIA and in urine against cortisol, measured by a cortisol-EIA) did not show substantial cross-reactivity with excreted 14C-T metabolites and could provide an acceptable degree of specificity for reliable assessment of glucocorticoid output from urine and feces. Based on these findings, concentrations of immunoreactive 3alpha,11-oxo-cortisol metabolites were determined in weekly fecal samples collected from four adult bulls over periods of 11-20 months to examine whether musth is associated with increased adrenal activity. Results showed that in each male levels of these cortisol metabolites were not elevated during periods of musth, suggesting that in the African elephant musth is generally not associated with marked elevations in glucocorticoid output. Given the complex nature of musth and the variety of factors that are likely to influence its manifestation, it is clear, however, that further studies, particularly on free-ranging animals, are needed before a possible relationship between musth and adrenal function can be resolved. This study also clearly illustrates the potential problems associated with cross-reacting metabolites of gonadal steroids in EIAs measuring glucocorticoid metabolites. This has to be taken into account when selecting assays and interpreting results of glucocorticoid metabolite analysis, not only for studies in the elephant but also in other species.