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Interventions in a Herd of Semi-Captive Plains Zebras

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In a herd of semi-captive plains zebras interventions, which occurred within the harems, were investigated in order to answer the question why zebras interfered. These interventions are of interest because they regulate the contacts between companions and because, as corrective and preventive measures, they reveal the normative principles underlying the behaviours by which animals structure their social environment. An attempt was made to deduce 1) the internal norms of the interferer; 2) his short term aims; 3) his tactis and 4) his perception of the social environment. The analysis revealed that in the case of an affiliative interaction foals, yearlings and adult mares started to interfere if a friend had an affiliative contact with another zebra. In view of the interferer's behaviours it was concluded that their aim was to break off the ongoing interaction and that zebras tended to protect friendship bonds. Foals and yearlings further interfered if their mother was being threatened, attacked or sexually approached by a stallion. In view of the interferer's behaviours its aim was to prevent iminent interactions or to break off ongoing interactions. This suggests that these interventions were of a protective nature. The interferer's behaviours in both contexts ware very much alike. Mares tended to interfere if their foal/yearling or adult daughter was threathened or aggressed or if a mare friend was being sexually approached by a stallion. This type of intervention was of a protective nature. Stallions in a multi male harem showed a high tendency to interfere in courtship interactions. From the resemblance between interventions in courtship and in aggressive interactions it is concluded that, at leat in a number of cases, the individuals have perceived courtship behaviour by the stallion as a threat towards the mare involved.

Affiliations: 1: Laboratory of Comparative Physiology, University of Utrecht, P.O. Box 80.086, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands


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