In the context of reproduction, glucocorticoids (GCs) are generally considered to have negative effects. However, in well-studied model species, GCs fluctuate predictability across the estrous cycles, and short-term increases promote healthy ovarian function. Reproductive challenges have plagued captive elephant populations, which are not currently self-sustaining. Efforts to understand reproductive dysfunction in elephants have focused on the suppressive effects of cortisol, but the potential permissive or stimulatory effects of cortisol are unknown. In this study, we provide a detailed examination of cortisol patterns across the estrous cycle in Asian elephants (
Elephas maximus). Time series analysis was used to analyze cortisol and progesterone data for a total of 73 cycles from eight females. We also compared cortisol profiles between females that successfully conceived and females that failed to conceive despite repeated mating attempts. Our results revealed that cortisol fluctuates predictably across the estrous cycle, with a peak during the second half of the follicular phase followed by low levels throughout the luteal phase. Furthermore, this pattern was significantly altered in nulliparous females; cortisol concentrations did not decline during the luteal phase to the same extent as in parous females. This study highlights the complexity of cortisol signaling and suggests future directions for understanding the role of cortisol in reproductive dysfunction.