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The social integration of European badger (Meles meles) cubs into their natal group

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Three main reasons have been suggested to explain the evolution of stable social groups in mammals: cooperation, resource dispersion, and natal philopatry. Here, we investigate the driving forces behind the social integration of badger Meles meles cubs into their natal group as a model for those species, where group-living has been attributed to ecological constraints. Between March 1995 and June 1996, we observed the cub/adult interactions of 9 litters in 2 badger social groups in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, from the time of their first emergence to full independence using remote controlled IR-video surveillance equipment. Our results show that with increasing age, cubs emerge earlier from the sett, interact with an increasing number of adults, and initiate a greater proportion of social interactions. Young cubs exhibit a specific behaviour (here termed 'scent-theft') to mark themselves with the subcaudal gland secretion of adult group-members, shown to carry group-specific information. In contrast to other social carnivores, badger cubs are not the focus of attention from adult group-members, but, supporting our hypothesis, their social integration into the natal group is gradual and cub-driven.

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