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The Behavior of the Male Antilope Cervicapra L., Its Development According To Age and Social Rank

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A population of Antilope cervicapra L. was studied from 1971 to 1976 in the park of Clères, north of Rouen (France). The animals range freely over an area of more than 6 ha, which seems similar to the habitat used by the species in the wild. The social behaviors of the ♂ ♂ blackbuck have been recorded and counted, according to the herd in which each animal lives, and his hierarchical rank. The population splits into a number of social units. Females and young are grouped into a herd that occupies the best grasslands. The strongest ♂ establishes a territory in this area, which he defends against other ♂ ♂ . The other adult or young ♂ ♂ form a bachelor herd that lives on a large grassland on the opposite end of the park. Certain times of day the highest ranking ♂ ♂ in the dominance hierarchy leave the bachelor herd and defend territories adjacent to the harem. The 9 9 sometimes pass through these territories. From time to time the hierarchy changes, and certain ♂ ♂ replace the territorial ♂ ♂ , which in turn rejoin the bachelor herd. Adjacent ♂ ♂ territories divide the 9 ♀ home range. Many threats and parallel displays take place on the borders between neighboring territories. The territorial limits are determined only by the ♂ with the smallest territory, regardless of the identity or strength of his neighbor. The number of territories grows regularly with the size of the harem. The blackbuck ♂ shows 6 different marking behaviors that mature as the animal grows. There is generally no qualitative difference in marking behavior between ♂ ♂ ; however the territorial ♂ performs a more complete urination-defecation sequence than the others and he only emits the barking. All ♂♂ have similar "Flehmen" display, but the α- ♂ shows it more often than other ♂ ♂, as do adults compared to young ♂ ♂ ; the urine of 9 9 releases "Flehmen" more often than that of ♂ ♂ . The courtship display is complex and requires maturation. Yearlings and two-year-old ♂ ♂ perform it indistinctly and direct it incompletely towards any conspecific. Adult ♂ ♂ perform the complete courtship display towards 9 9 , but there is much homosexual mounting. The α- ♂ directs sexual behaviors only towards 9 ♀. In A. cervicapra society, young ♂♂ with 9 -like appearance are often treated by adult ♂♂ as if they were 9 9 . The main type of play is play-sparring. There are 8 agonistic behaviors. In general these are directed towards animals of lower rank. The dominance display is a social agonistic display that develops progressively with age and is only complete in adults. It has the same form when directed towards either ♂ ♂ or 9 ♀. The main characteristic of the behavior of the blackbuck is the avoidance of physical contacts and the preponderance of visual gestures. There is no visible dominance hierarchy among harem 9 ♀ . The strongest ♂ lives with the 9 9 . All the other ♂ ♂ belonging to the bachelor troup are ordered in a linear hierarchy with occasional equal or triangular relationship. Sick or wounded ♂ ♂ may be temporarily outside of the hierarchy. The youngest ♂ ♂ are at the bottom of the hierarchy and only compete with adults at about 3 years of age, when they may also become territorial or harem ♂♂. The α- ♂ is not replaced by the strongest bachelor, but by a ♂ of middle rank. The β- ♂ never becomes α-♂, nor vice versa. Among bachelors there are two independent hierarchies: one leading to α status, and one to β, with no passage from one to the other. Individual ♂ ♂ belong to either one or the other category. Most harem ♂ ♂ are younger than other territorial ♂ ♂ . There is no difference in marking behavior between bachelors, but territorial ♂ ♂ are distinguished by more types of behavior, given more completely and more frequently. There are large individual differences in tendency to play, which is inversely related to the rank in the hierarchy: the α-♂ never plays. Each ♂ has 4 to 6 partners for play. Choice of partners depends directly on rank: high ranking ♂ ♂ (2-5) only play with much lower ranking individuals, thus exluding those in close competition in the hierarchy. Those in the lower half of the herd (6-11), in contrast, are unconstrained and play with partners of any rank. The agonistic behaviors are more often directed towards animals of lower but close rank. Among hornless or small-horned individuals ( 9 9 and young ♂ ♂) there are many encounters involving butting and sparring, but among older ♂ ♂ the more violent engagements involving physical contact are rare. There are large individual differences in agonistic behavior. In general the higher the rank, the more aggressive is the ♂. In contrast to play, each animal has aggressive encounters with all the others in the herd. There is non-random choice of partners, however: high ranking ♂♂ (2-6) most often threaten those of neighboring rank, while those at the bottom of the hierarchy (7 + below) most frequently engage with ♂♂ 5 ranks above them. We thus have a parallel system of aggression between the two halves of the hierarchy: ♂ 7 with ♂ 2, ♂ 8 with ♂ 3, etc... The sharp division of this herd into two halves according to partners for combat corresponds precisely with that seen in relation to play behavior. In the park of Clères, Antilope cervicapra shows a behavior and social organization identical to that of several African Bovidae of open spaces which have been studied in the wild.

Affiliations: 1: Laboratoire d'Ecologie générale du Museum, Brunoy, France


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