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Social play in captive wolves (Canis lupus): not only an immature affair

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image of Behaviour

Animal social play represents an important tool for self- and social-assessment purposes during the juvenile phase. Nevertheless, this activity may continue into adulthood as well providing immediate benefits to the playmates. In this study, I investigated the dynamics of adult play in a wolf colony hosted at the Pistoia Zoo (Italy). The study wolves performed social play to a greater extent compared to solitary play. Play distribution was not affected by relationship quality (measured by body contact and agonistic support frequencies) and aggression levels. Probably, in wolves other behavioural strategies are employed for strengthening inter-individual relationships and reducing conflicts among fellows. Play was distributed throughout the entire group independently of the sex of playmates. The absence of sexual-dimorphism in play may be linked to the fact that in the wolf pack males and females share the same roles and behavioural repertoire. Rank distance between conspecifics negatively correlated with play distribution: by playing wolves with closest ranking positions tested each other for acquiring information on skills of possible competitor and gaining hierarchical advantage over it. Finally, in agreement with previous studies, my findings showed that wolves significantly reduced their playful activity during contests of high conflict of interests such as mating period and feeding time.

Affiliations: 1: VademECOS, Biology Association, via A. Petri 31/b, Viareggio, Italy; Giardino Zoologico di Pistoia, via Pieve a Celle, 160/a, 51030 Pistoia, Italy; Centro Interdipartimentale Museo di Storia Naturale e del Territorio, Università di Pisa, Pisa, Italy


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