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Integrity of a Red Deer Stag Group During the Velvet Period, Association of Individuals and Timing of Antler Cleaning

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Previous studies on a "white" red deer herd at Zehušice, Czechoslovakia showed that a stag's antler casting and cleaning dates were related to his rank in the dominance hierarchy. The relationship was less apparent with antler cleaning than with casting. It was suggested that this is a consequence of disintegration of the bachelor group during the period of antler growth. A group of 14 individually recognised stags in a 1.26 km2 enclosure were observed 77 times between March 15th and August 22nd 1983. The number of stag groups, the distribution of stags into groups and the number of solitary stags was recorded on each occasion. For each observation the "relative dominance index" (RDI, rank position within a group divided by the number of stags in the group) was calculated for each individual. Correlation coefficients between antler cleaning dates and summed RDI values were calculated. As in previous seasons, and in contrast to the period preceding antler casting, the bachelor group disintegrated during the velvet period. As antler cleaning approached the stags tended to disperse into more groups and separate from other deer. The stags associated with others of similar rank and age. There was a close association between summed RDI values for individual stags for the last two weeks of the velvet period and dates of antler cleaning. Among pairs of stags which were closest associates during this period, the higher ranking stag always cleaned earlier. It is concluded that the disintegration of the bachelor group in the period before antler cleaning may be the major factor which causes a less apparent relationship between rank and the date of antler cleaning than between rank and date of antler casting. It is suggested that these two points in the antler cycle are regulated by hormones modulated by agonistic behaviour related to rank.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Genetics, Research Institute of Animal Production, Praha - Uhrřneves, and East Bohemia State Forcst Enterprises, Ronov n/Doubrava, Czechoslovakia


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