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Condition Changes and Choice of Social Environment in African Buffalo Bulls

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1. The social behaviour of the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) was studied between 1981 and 1985 in Lake Manyara National Park, northern Tanzania. Emphasis is placed on the relationships between adult bulls (i.e. older than 7 yrs). 2. These bulls were transient members of the buffalo population of the study area. At any time ± 150 adult bulls were in the area. During the study period 240 individual bulls were recognized, and the number of the 'bull pool' during this period was estimated to be 630. 3. Every few weeks, the bulls switched between the herd state and bachelor state, and wandered from herd to herd, presumably in search of oestrus cows. 4. They did not form stable associations, and when bachelor, they preferentially associated in temporary groups of 3 to 5 bulls. 5. Adult bulls engaged in sparring and showed dominance interactions very rarely. In a dyadic encounter, dominance interactions were only observed between bulls of the same body condition. Encounters involving individuals in different condition resulted in dominance being established without interaction. Fighting is extremely rare and likely to be lethal to both opponents. 6. The switching between both social environments was related to condition loss in the mixed herd and to condition gain in the bachelor state. This resulted in a 'rotating dominance hierarchy'. The bachelor phase is an essential part of the breeding cycle of an adult bull. 7. The necessity of a bachelor phase to recoup body condition may well be a general feature in mammalian species with long breeding seasons.

Affiliations: 1: (Zoological Laboratory, University of Groningen, Kerklaan 30, 9750 AA Haren (Gr.), The Netherlands)


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