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Play Deprivation in Deer

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The normal spontaneous play (ludic behavior) in a male and a female hand-raised fawn of the blacktailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) is described. The motor patterns employed and the extent and circumstances of play are in accordance with LINSDALE and TOMICH's observations in the wild. The play consists of head jerks, butting, pushing, head shaking, mounting, leaping, running, neck craning and neck twisting, and kicking. Exploratory behavior is independent of locomotor play. Both individuals were repeatedly experimentally deprived of leaping, running and accompanying movements (e.g., kicking). There was no effect on play: all motor patterns occur in their usual frequency after play deprivation. However, the raised speed of running in the female after deprivation should not be overlooked. The major effects of play deprivation were prolongation of the activity periods without increasing the total amount of activity, a higher rate of locomotion in the first hours after the deprivation, and in the female more exploration in the regular activity periods following the experiment. These findings support the hypothesis that play is not due to a specific motivation on its own but is closely related to a general readiness to be active, at least for the species in question.

Affiliations: 1: San Francisco State College, San Francisco, Calif., USA


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