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Aggressive and Protective Behaviour of Adult Rabbits Oryctolagus Cuniculus (L.) Towards Juveniles

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Adult wild rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L). were confronted experimentally in their own pens with o-60 day old kittens of three different descents: "own" "group" and "strangers". The ability to differentiate between kittens of these three categories was displayed by adults of both sexes and was statistically significant for a number of measures taken. Does tolerated "own" kittens but attacked "group" progeny and "strangers". The severity of aggression as measured by the incidence of biting, ripping, squealing, killing and severity of wounds was higher in relation to "strangers" than "group" kittens. Adult males tolerated young kittens irrespective of their parentage and displayed amicable behaviour-chinning and licking-towards them. However they showed a small amount of aggression towards some juveniles approaching maturity. To minimise injuries to kittens the behaviour of females had to be studied in the presence of the bucks. The protective (altruistic) role of the males demonstrated by their attacks on the females reduced the severity of the does' aggression towards the kittens. Adults identified kittens by smell, sniffing most commonly at the hindquarters and head regions in which the skin glands (chin, anal, inguinal) are located. Blindfolding of adults slowed down aggression but did not eliminate it completely and did not affect their ability to differentiate between "group" progeny and "strangers". There were individual differences in the severity of aggression by females and the protective behaviour of bucks. The aggression of adult females and the protection of males in relation to kittens are discussed generally and the important role of territoriality in inhibiting aggression in wild rabbits is emphasised.

Affiliations: 1: Division of Wildlife Research, CSIRO; 2: Division of Mathematical Statistics, CSIRO, Canberra, Australia


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