Baboons don’t play follow the leader – they’re democratic travellers

Robert John Young, University of Salford

Baboons in the wild are known for their highly strategic and hierarchical societies. So when it comes to decisions about where to go, one might expect that some bolshie individuals will direct the group through its habitat. However, a new study of the collective movements of wild olive baboons in Kenya suggests that there are more democratic processes at play.

For wild animals location is everything. The decision to head north instead of south may lead you to a fruiting tree, a pool with water or a place of shelter: all of these things could be the difference between life and death. For that reason, animal movements are never random. Even when searching for things, animals will use specific patterns of movements to sweep their environment. Social animal species like monkeys may not sit down and have a confab over a map, but they still need to make a decision about where the group should be heading.

A baboon in sheep’s clothing?

Numerous theoretical studies show the more you use collective information, the better the decision making process turns out. So it actually makes sense for clever animals like baboons to ignore a dominant individual no matter how much of a despot they are, but instead use a democratic process.

Oliver might be resourceful but look at that silly stroll. He clearly has no idea where he’s going.
Andicat/wikipedia

So far, there has been a limited amount of knowledge about how baboons make decisions about movements. The problem is how to study simultaneous and collective decision making in animals that live in large groups. Baboons typically live in groups of around 100. High accuracy GPS devices mounted on the majority of group members is the answer: this will reveal how animals coordinate their movements relative to one another. I have used this technique in the past on a much smaller scale to investigate the secretive lives of mated pairs of maned wolves in Brazil.

The researchers monitoring baboons in Kenya did just this. When an animal moved off, its influence on the other members of the group was observed. Did the other members follow (that is, did it “pull” them along)? Or did the other members resist the initiative to move off (that is, “anchor” the group). And what happened when several individuals moved off at the same time in different directions?

The researchers found that there was no relationship between position in the hierarchy and pulling the crowd along. In other words, top baboons were as likely to be followers as being followed. This illustrates that leadership and social roles within a social group can be distinct roles. Just because you are the leader does not mean that everyone else in the group treats you like you are infallible in your decision making.

In general individuals were followed when they moved purposefully off in a set direction and were able to rapidly recruit or “pull” other individuals in that direction. This makes sense in that it suggests to other group members that the moving individual’s behaviour is goal driven, for example by looking for food. Perhaps the individual has suddenly remembered the location of a fruiting tree. It would therefore appear that baboons like to follow the crowd – this is similar to quorum sensing behaviour in bees and ants when they are choosing a new nest. The option with the most votes wins.

The 90-degree rule

A big problem of group movement is how to resolve disagreement about the direction to be taken. It is rather like being lost in a strange city on a night out with a group of friends with widely differing opinions about where to go. One effect of this for both humans and baboons is that it delays any decision being made as the conflict is being resolved.

So what’s the solution? It turns out that baboons have a special rule. When the difference between two individuals trying to initiate movements in different directions is less than 90 degrees from one another, then it is resolved by splitting the difference and taking a middle path. However, if the difference of opinion about directions is greater than 90 degrees then individuals accept the choice of one individual over the other. Initiators of movement in a certain direction build up followers, and the individual that has accumulated most followers will end up determining the group’s direction.

You are wrong – the difference is 91 degrees, not 88. Let’s follow Jack.
Rod Waddington/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

It is surprising that something as important as group movement in baboons can be determined by a few simple rules, which are based on the idea that it is better to use the group’s collective knowledge than trust in the opinion of their leader. And perhaps even more so the fact that a dominant individual accepts that it is better to be a sheep than a shepherd in certain situations.

The Conversation

Robert John Young is Professor of Wildlife Conservation at University of Salford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

No wonder we are so fascinated by chimps – they remind us of ourselves

Robert John Young, University of Salford

I can quite happily go to a zoo just to watch the chimpanzees. It is not that the other animals are boring, but that chimps are so fascinating. In recent days the media has reported their drinking of alcohol, their ability to vary smiles and a US move to designate them as endangered. So, what makes chimps so attractive to scientists and the general public alike?

From a scientific point of view they are our closest
genetic relative. We share more than 98% of the same DNA and had a common evolutionary ancestor only 5-7m years ago. So chimpanzee biology and behaviour can tell us much about ourselves. And of course chimps look like us (as do most primate species). Due to these similarities, chimps are one of the most studied primate species of all time.

Head scratcher
International Fund for Animal Welfare Animal Rescue/flickr, CC BY-NC

Chimps were first described approximately 300 years ago and ever since they have appeared in books, films, TV adverts and have even flown in space ships. Their importance in understanding human evolution cannot be denied and this further adds to their high profile within human societies. But during my childhood, chimps were portrayed on the TV as loveable clowns: just think of the Tarzan films or adverts for PG Tips.

However, in my opinion there is something else in the human condition that leads us to be infatuated with chimps. And it is not that they are the most cute and cuddly looking animal. That title goes to the giant panda. Instead it is to do with our human propensity to be voyeurs: we love to watch other people.

Interesting people are those who put on public display their loves, hates and passions. The problem is there is only so much staring and gawping that interesting people (celebrities aside) will tolerate. Chimps provide an alternative outlet for our fascination with others.

What’s the gossip?
Nataša Stuper/flickr, CC BY

Chimps are passionate, scheming, aggressive animals. In many ways they seem to represent the human condition in its most elemental state. When we observe them we are looking at ourselves. But they act without the restrictions that polite society puts on us. And in zoos on wildlife documentaries, groups that are used to being watched by humans are not shy about expressing their desires, be they sexual or otherwise. In other words they are a voyeur’s dream.

To watch a group of chimpanzees is to watch a soap opera unfold before your eyes, but without the pretence of time passing quickly. They live life in the fast lane. Just as one example, chimpanzees are 100 to 1,000 times more aggressive than humans. Even TV soap operas do not show this much action happening in short spaces of time.

Not-so human drama
Tambako The Jaguar/flickr, CC BY-ND

If a male chimp is angry with someone or something then he lets them know in no uncertain terms. This happens not just in terms of bashing things, but also through pronounced facial expressions such as bearing teeth. I think we humans are jealous of chimps because they can vent their aggressive feelings without societal disapproval.

A friend of mine use to work on a project observing captive giant pandas, the world’s most marketed animal. But despite their cuteness they were boring to watch, just eating bamboo, sleeping, defecating every half hour and mating once a year. I challenge anyone to spend a whole day observing them. They just have too little behavioural diversity, expressing interesting behaviours such as aggression or sex at very low frequencies.

Chimps also have a caring side. Once they have attacked and beaten another individual, they will soon go over and give them a hug to prevent this negative interaction spiralling out of control. They show empathy towards sick members of their group. Older individuals are tolerant of the capers of the younger individuals. They live in a loving society where individuals hold hands, hug and kiss in the manner of people from Latin countries. And their partiality to a spot of alcohol has now generated much excitement.

Even when chimps are sitting around doing nothing, as a human observer you sense that something interesting could happen at any second. They never seem to have vacant expressions even when they are resting. They appear to be scheming away, working out how to manipulate other members of their group for food, friendship or sex. Chimps give the impression of being intelligent without the need to be making and using tools to procure food – just sitting down will do.

Cuddle time
Carlos López Molina/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Finally, chimps display remarkably strong personalities. Just one day of watching a group in a zoo is enough for you to determine their characters. Some are bold, others timid. Some are very agitated, whereas others seem serene. It is this blend of personalities that creates interesting group dynamics and the script for their soap operatic lives.

We are addicted to chimps because they let us spy on their lives, lives that are so rich and amazing that one, whose name was Flo, even had her obituary published in the Sunday Times newspaper.

The Conversation

Robert John Young is Professor of Wildlife Conservation at University of Salford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pottoka Piornal ponies WE

This entry was contributed to Wild Equus by Lucy Rees, member and researcher of the Wild Equus Network (WEN). You can visit the Pottokas en Piornal website, where you will find more details about her work with the feral pottoka ponies.


Species: Equus caballus

Subspecies/Breed/Type: Pottoka (Basque Pony)

Country: Spain

Region/Province/Range: Sierra de Tormantos, Piornal (Extremadura-Caceres)

Population type: Feral

Management Authority:  Pottokas en Piornal

Estimated Population size: about 40 horses (2015)

Census August 2015

Foals 2015 m 5 (+ 1 that died) f 3

Yearlings    m 4 (b, 3n) f. 3  (d, 2n)

2 y-olds      m 1 (b)  f  4

3 & above   m 5 (b, 4s) f  15

Total 40, m 15, f 25
b= bachelor, s=stallion, n= still with natal band, d=dispersed  – 9/15 mares foaled. = 60%.

Of the 6 that did not foal, 4 were 3 y-o that foaled last year at 2, 1 is 3 y-o,  1 unknown (mare not seen for 3 months)


Details of Population

1200ha. of mountain between 700m and 1500m. , with two deep gorges. Lower-lying areas are oak wood (about 400ha) with scattered chestnut plantations, the latter mainly unavailable to the ponies. The rest is mainly high, dense heather, Spanish broom, bracken and rock, with occasional areas of grass.

Average winter temperature 2.8º; snow may cover areas over 1000m for up to a month. Average summer temperature 20.8º . Water is abundant except in dry summers when all but two springs may dry up. The ponies practice seasonal vertical migration.

The area may also be grazed by up to 600 goats. Occasional red deer, groups of fallow deer, wild boar, fox, martin, jineta, rabbits (few), walkers and cyclists share the area. No large predators.

The population was set up as an open-access study facility for equine researchers and students with non-invasive projects. All ponies can be identified individually and their life history is known. Pottokas are Basque ponies whose DNA variation corresponds to a wild, not domesticated breed. Ours have no management except culling to limit numbers.

Their social organization corresponds to other older feral populations: natal bands, home ranges (around 300ha.), natal dispersal, bachelor bands often joined by dispersing fillies. Three have tamed themselves but the rest cannot be touched although they admit close observation.

Population growth has been limited by culling. In 2014 one entire band (young stallion, old mare, her daughter and grand-daughter) were removed. In 2015 11 ponies (3 y-o stallion, 7 y-o mare, her yearling son, and 7 fillies of 1 and 2 years old were removed). The individuals were chosen to minimize social disruption, being mostly fillies in natal dispersal. To reduce possible conflicts each band was rounded up separately and the youngsters removed.

Despite apparent lack of good forage the ponies are in extremely good condition although lactating mares lose weight at the end of the summer. The ponies show an astonishing ability to self-heal even severe wounds. Parasite burden is negligible.

Structure and demographics

4 single-stallion natal bands, one bachelor band.
The population was set up in 2007/8 in Catalonia with two bands each of one stallion and three mares. On moving the population to its present location in 2011, a 3 year-old unrelated stallion was introduced.

Of the 11 foals conceived in Catalonia 9 were female. In Extremadura 20 colts and 19 fillies have been born.
Mortality:
12 y-o mare, piroplasmosis (Catalonia, 2007)
colt 6 months killed by hippies (c, 2008)
14 y-o stallion, infection from broken tooth (Extremadura, 2014)
12 y-o mare, herbicide poisoning (Extremadura, 2013)
yearling colt, eating plastic bag (E, 2014)
foal 3 weeks (E. 2015)
2 disappeared colts.

About half the fillies become pregnant as yearlings, giving a very fast-growing, female-skewed  population (see culling, below). Fillies that foal at 2 do not foal at 3. Colts begin (inefficiently) to form natal bands at 3 years old.

Issues worth noting and needed actions

a) Legal imperative to microchip, which causes stress and social disruption and is extremely difficult in practice. The European regulations allow exemption in wild or feral ponies but the Extremadura authorities do no recognize this.
b) Damage to fences and walls caused by herds of goats, whose owner refuses to use the gates, cause escapes, social disruption and conflicts with the police.

Bibliography and further reading

Genetic analysis in the basque pony-pottoka breed. Preliminary results

Genetic variability in two spanish horse populations: Preliminary results

Pottoka’s behaviour and training

El caballo al final de la última glaciación en el período postglacial

Affiliative (af)

A review of literature on the social behaviour of horses is likely to lead many to think equine society is governed solely by the establishment of social hierarchies, usually based on the outcomes of social conflict or competition, commonly referred to as agonistic behaviour.

The description of animal societies is mainly based on agonistic classifications, in which cooperation and affiliative behaviour were overshadowed by the competition-aggression-reconciliation paradigm generally emphasized by many writers.

Affiliative interactions [af] refer to the activities between two or more (dyadic, triadic, poliadic) individuals within a social group with the function of developing, maintaining or enhancing social bonds. {Equus Ethogram Project}

Affiliative is from Medieval Latin; affiliatus, past participle of affiliare to adopt as a son, from Latin ad- + filius son

konik stallions mutual grooming

Indeed, agonistic and affiliative behaviour are inextricably intertwined (Price & Sloman, 1993) in the complexity of social interactions, making it a laborious task to filter away the units of behaviour neatly into separate compartments for either one type of interaction, or the other.

Social interactions lay on a behavioural continuum, a continuous stream of movements  (Fentress, 1990; MacNulty et al, 2007) or spectrums of behavior (Abrantes, 2011):

“The distinction between any two behaviour is a matter of function; the borderline separating one category from the other is a matter of observational skill, contextual parameters and convention; the way we understand it all is a matter of definition.” (Abrantes, 2011)

For instance, in the ‘Agonistic ethogram of the equid bachelor band’ published by McDonnell & Haviland (1994), agonistic encounters were considered based on their intensity, running or flowing across a spectrum from “very quiet affiliative behaviour to serious aggression” (McDonnell & Haviland, 1994).

In this Equus Ethogram Project, affiliative interactions will be classified separately from agonistic ones, at least when at all possible. A host of authors have extracted units of agonistic behaviours from the interwoven fabric of equine social interactions, so it should be likewise possible to extract those other units of behaviour which promote group cohesion: affiliative behaviours.

DSC03382

The results of a growing body of research on free-living mammals suggests that affiliative social interactions, those enhancing social bonds, have important fitness consequences for individuals ( Swedell, 2002; Weidt et al, 2007; Silk et al. 2003, 2010; Cameron et al. 2009; Frere et al. 2010; Wey & Blumstein 2012) engaged in them.

In horses as in most social mammals, affiliative interactions are usually described by mutual grooming, play and group resting. This ethogram considers including more subtle forms of affiliative behaviour, such as the frequency or duration one individual is found sharing close proximity with others as an indication of their level of bonding (Hinde 1976; Garai 1992; Kleindorfer &Wasser 2004).

This Equus Ethogram Project is an on-going work, and the general framework, or particular sections and pages will be updated as new light is shed or brought to our knowledge.

Cumberland Island horses WE

Species: Equus caballus

Subspecies/Breed/Type

Country: United States of America

Region/Province/Range: Georgia – Cumberland Island

Population type: Feral

Estimated Population size: about 170 horses (2010)

Management Authority: Cumberland Island National Seashore  National Park Service

Management Practices: Yearly Population Census

Details of Population

Horses have been on Cumberland Island at least since the 1700s. The current population however is likely the result of breeding with post-1900 introductions to the island. Genetic analysis has revealed that the horses on Cumberland Island resemble several current domestic breeds. (Goodloe et al, 1991)

This population is considered feral, free-ranging and unmanaged, with no supplementary feeding or veterinary care.

The park conducts a census every spring to monitor the population. Based on data from the last 12 years, the herd appears to be stable at approximately 175 animals. From 186 horses tallied in 1986, the population grew to about 220 horses in 1990. However, in 1991, 18% of the herd, about 40 horses, died as a result of an outbreak of eastern equine encephalitis. The latest census (2010) accounted for 121 horses. However, it generally considered that a further 50 horses where not accounted for in the 2010 census, and adding these would take the population to about 170 individuals.

Structure and demographics

Cumberland horses live in typical Harem formations and multi-stallion bands (n=37), all female groups (n=2) and a number of bachelor groups (Goodloe 1991). The mares to stallions ratio was 0.6 females:1.0 males (Goodloe 1991; Goodloe et al, 2000). Average multi-stallion band size was 4.6 horses. Up to 32% of the Cumberland Island Population was comprised of Sub-adults. 54% of stallions travelled in bachelor groups (Goodloe 1991; Goodloe et al, 2000)..

Issues worth noting and needed actions

Not applicable.


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Bibliography:

Goodloe, R. B. (1991) Immunocontraception, genetic management, and demography of feral horses on four eastern U.S. barrier islands. Ph.D. Thesis, Univ. Georgia, Athens. 150Pp

Goodloe, R. B. et al. (1991) Genetic Variation and its management applications in Eastern U.S. feral horses. J. Wildl. Manage. 55(3)

Goodloe, R.B., Warren, R.J., Osborn, D.A., and Hall, C. (2000) Population characteristics of feral horses on Cumberland Island and their management implications. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 64: 114-121.

Turner, M.G. (1987) Effects of grazing by feral horses, clipping, trampling, and burning on a Georgia salt marsh. Estuaries and Coasts, 10: 54-60.

Turner, M.G. (1988) Simulation and management implications of feral horse grazing on Cumberland Island, Georgia. J. Range Manage. 41:441- 447.


Further reading:

Position Paper: Wetland Impacts from Feral Horses, Cumberland Island National Shoreline

Wild Horses in a Georgia Wilderness? Cumberland Island National Seashore Completes Annual Count

Feral animals on Cumberland Island

Horses Gone Wild

Social Interactions (Si)

The importance of sociality to horses, Equus (ferus) caballus, is a topic that can never be emphasized strongly enough, their survival strategies and reproductive successes are highly dependent on the formation of cohesive social bonds (van Dierendonck, 2006 ). In fact, horses should not in my opinion be considered in any other context than a social one.

Tremendous effort has gone to describe the “workings” of the horse, how they behave and live, but many fail to see that living in close proximity with a con-specific has been shaped by millions of years of natural selection.

Despite millennia of domestication horses that have either been set free or have escaped and allowed to roam on their own accord, have in many parts of the world:  thrived by adopting survival and reproductive strategies that are generally quite similar to one another.

The fundamental similarities unveiled by years of descriptive studies are a testament to their evolutionary importance. But, similarities do not equate to sameness and differences found in their ways of life are likely to shed light on alternative life strategies, and their incredible biological plasticity which allows them to “fit” into such distinct environments.

It may be dead obvious to most that all extinct and extant equids are in fact horses. Equus, the name Linnaeus (1758) used to classify the genus that included the zebras, half-asses, donkeys, Przewalski and caballus, is a Latin name meaning: horse.

Throughout this Ethogram, emphasis is on Equus caballus, and use of the colloquial term “horse” is a shorthand referring exclusively to this species.

Studies of social behaviour are in fact studies of “(…) cooperation between individuals” (Tinbergen, 1953), and cooperation will be the centerpiece of our approximation to the social life of Equus caballus throughout this present work.

Just as organisms are communities of parts, so too societies are communities of individuals wherein cooperation, mating and the rearing of young play a vital role and in which individuals are driven by conflicting needs and interests. In other words, animal societies are characterized by cooperative and conflictive interactions among individuals: those between nearby con-specifics. (Whitehead, 2009)

It makes sense to consider that sociality brings about both ecological and genetic benefits to individuals by allowing them to better acquire and use certain resources, but group living has inherent costs too:

Increased foraging efficiency, improved predator detection, avoidance and defense, as well as easier access to reproductive options are three of the more important benefits of group living.

At the same time group living is likely to heighten competition for resources, aggression among group members, as well as increase exposure to parasites and disease. (Alexander, 1974) For social behaviour to be adaptive, advantages must outweigh the costs associated with group living (Alexander 1974; Wrangham & Rubenstein 1986).

Animals that live together influence each other in a myriad of ways, and serve a number of functions. In horse societies all individuals associate with all other individuals at some rate and any resulting order is related to the ecology of a population, including interactions with con-specifics.

Included under the section of Social Interactions, you will find the following subcategories:

  • Affiliative interactions (af)
  • Agonistic interactions (ag)
  • Communication (C)
  • Play (P)
  • Sexual (sx)
  • Parental (par)
  • Bonds (bd)
  • Roles (rls)

Huddling (hd)

A huddle is characterized by individuals crowding or gathering together. Most often, huddles are linked to thermoregulatory processes, and this social thermoregulation, or “(…) the ability of some species to use sociality or grouping to regulate their body temperature” (Gilbert, 2010), is a common energy saving strategy for many endothermic species (Canals, 1998; Alberts, 1978).

By bunching together, individuals reduce the body surface area exposed to inclement weather, consequently reducing energy spent in regaining a conservative equilibrium (Humphreys, 1933), or homoeostases.

In terms of horses huddling as a means of social thermoregulation, there really is very little work done. During cold weather horses have been observed to huddle or crowd together, on windy or rainy days; horses typically stand close to one another with “backs to weather” or “backs to natural windbreak”, as described by McDonnell (2003):

Backs to weather – Typically observed during windy or rainy days, Two or more horses stand closely together with their “(…) hindquarters into the wind.” (from the Equid Ethogram p. 79)

Backs to natural windbreak – Two or more horses stand closely together with their “(…) hindquarters protected from the wind by vegetation or other feature of the environment.” (from the Equid Ethogram p. 78)

McDonnell (2003), suggests that the backs to weather behaviour reduces the body surface area exposed to inclement weather, thus minimizing heat loss; in short it serves a thermoregulatory function.

In horses, the social bonds between unrelated mares, friendships, contribute to reproductive success as suggested by Cameron et al (2009) in a study on the Kaimanawa feral horses of New Zealand.

Horses have preferred partners within their band or herd with whom they associate more often with than other members of the group. Claudia Feh (1987), found that in the Camargue horses, horses had up to two, rarely three, preferred partners. These affiliative interactions are characterized by individuals sharing “personal space” (Dierendonck & Goodwin, 1992), and synchronizing activities.

Despite huddles not being extensively studied in horses, it is frequently mentioned in equid related literature, especially regards to group rest (Tyler, 1972; McDonnell, 2003; Ransom & Cade, 2009), or social grooming such as in mutual insect control. (McDonnell, 2003; Ransom & Cade, 2009)

Before going any further, let’s differentiate two types of huddles, namely; tight huddles and loose ones (Behnke, 2012). Tight huddles are those in which the majority of group members are in physical contact with one another, or separated by < 50 cms, leaving no gaps between individuals (Behnke, 2012). In contrast, loose huddles are those in which the majority of group members are in close proximity; from > 50 cms to < 150 cms, but not in physical contact with one another. Both between individual distances are currently in use in the ongoing Equus Ethogram Project.

Whether horses are grouped tightly or loosely may seem trivial, but for the sake of alienating the functional characteristics of different huddles, and their forms, the distances between individuals is likely of prime importance.

In tightly huddled horses, insect control is facilitated between group members. (Ransom & Cade, 2009) Several studies suggest that animals tend to group together when biting fly density or harassment is high (Bergerund, 1974; Schmidtmann and Valla, 1982; Rutberg, 1987; Rubenstein and Hohmann, 1989).

In the warmer months, which tend to correlate with an increase in insect harassment, two or more horses stand close together, typically tail to shoulder to the nearest neighbour. This is usually referred to as anti-parallel standing. In this position, individuals take advantage of one’s proximity to another to keep pesky biting insects at bay. Typically, horses have flies swished from their faces by the tail of a neighbour, but this can also be achieved by rubbing or bumping those close by.

Rest (Re)

Horses rest either standing or lying on the ground, and up to 30% of horse’s time budget can be spent resting. Rest in horses is generally a social and socially facilitated enterprise (see Group Rest), when one horse rests, others group members rest. Typically, in close proximity to other group members (Tyler, 1972; Feist & McCullough, 1976; Kimura, 1998; Sigurjonsdottir, 2003; Heitor et al, 2006), either in tight groups, or alternately, in groups of one or two pairs (Feist & McCullough, 1976).

However, foals were observed to rest together even though their mother’s were from different bands (Tyler, 1972).

Tyler (1972) observed seasonally different mean resting times in the New Forest ponies in her study. In winter daylight hours, adult ponies were observed to have 2-3 resting bouts lasting a mean length of about 40 minutes. Foals rested a little bit longer, about 44 minutes (Tyler, 1972). In summer, the length of resting bouts increased.

Not only did resting bouts increase in duration during the summer months, but New Forest ponies sought shelter in ‘shades’ (Tyler, 1972) for up to 5 hours.

Caging horses

Versión Español

Standard practice in the horse world dictates that horses be stabled, and provided with food, water and a place to rest. This minimalistic requirement for keeping horses in stables is a clear limiting factor for the horse’s expression of normal behavioral repertoires which undoubtedly compromises well-being and welfare.

A stall, whether you are selling vegetables in a local market, or using the same for confining your horse, usually refers to a small compartment. Small compartments for confining animals are referred to as cages.

Even the best of stalls are just glorified animal compartments, barren environments where horses are incapable of, or not allowed to, interact naturally with conspecifics or carry out the daily activities they would engage in, in free living or even enriched conditions.

This may be quite hard to digest for the majority of “naked apes”, as our life history is quite different to theirs.  With best intentions in mind, we confine them from extreme weather, keep them away from other horses that could potentially injure them, and lock them up for their own well-being, and of course our own peace of mind. We strive to feed them the best quality feed, usually the expensive stuff, based on counsel from professionals or even just because that is what has always been done.

Confinement in cages, stalls or even aquariums in most cases prevents animals from engaging in behaviors exhibited when living in free conditions and this in turn is well known to cause suffering and distress.

Band stallion mounting mare

Lately there has been a huge interest in improving the quality of life of captive and domestic animals which have led to the development of environmental enrichment, which in turn offer stimulation and opportunities to express species-specific behaviors.

An example from the father of Zoo Biology, Heini Hediger (1955), was an enrichment he provided in the Zurich Zoo to captive zebras.  During one of his trips to Africa, he noticed that many termite mound tops had been polished or rubbed away. Zebras would come along and rub themselves on these mounds as part of their grooming activities. In the zebra enclosure back in the Zurich Zoo, a cement make-believe termite mound was placed and the zebra were reported to be so excited by this enrichment that they rushed to it with such enthusiasm as to topple them over. Once these makeshift mounds were reinforced, Hediger reported that the mound “has been in daily use ever since” (Hediger, 1955).

On another note, Ernst Inhelder, a Swiss zoologist, studied species kept in impoverished or barren enclosures. He noted that animals kept in these conditions carried out repetitive stereotyped meaningless activities, such as walking back and forth a short distance, literally treading on their own footsteps.

Similar studies were carried out on laboratory animals and for example; rabbits were found to head sway, bite bars or walk in circles. (Morton et al., 1993). The same was true for birds (Morris,1966), carnivores (Fox, 1986), rodents (Baenninger, 1967; Wiedenmayer, 1987; Würbel et al., 1998; Callard et al., 2000; Reinhardt and Reinhardt, 2001a) and primates (Erwin and Deni, 1979; Poole, 1988; Harris, 1989).

In an attempt to improve conditions through cage size, Galef and Durlach (1993) as well as Bayne and McCully (1989), found that cage size does not necessarily reduce stereotypy. This is to be expected as it is the impoverished environment that is likely to be causing the stereotypies and not only the size of the cage.

Open stalls, or mini paddocks have been recently provisioned in many riding centers, precisely in an attempt to enrich the life of their horses. These open compartments are still barren and lack enrichment, especially of the social kind. But they are better than a kick in the bum!

A stereotypy is a ritualistic and repetitive type of behavior that serves no apparent function.  Here a quote from Katherine Houpt:

“For years, we’ve called behaviors like these stall or stable “vices.” The first part of the name is right—with the exception of fence-walking, a horse doesn’t do these things unless he’s in a stall. But the “vice” part isn’t correct, according to modern research, which indicates these actually aren’t bad habits per se, but simply the reactions of horses that aren’t getting what they need.” Katherine Houpt, from Stable Vice or Stereotypie?

Despite domestication, animals largely retain the basic behavioral repertoire of their wild counterparts. There is little evidence suggesting that the process of domestication has resulted in the loss of behaviors from the species specific repertoire (Price, 1999), or that basic motor patterns associated with the species repertoire have changed (Scott & Fuller, 1965; Hale, 1969; Miller, 1977).

“Domestic animals are sometimes provided with an environment that is physically similar to the habitat of their wild ancestors. Behavioral and physiological adaptations to such an environment will be readily achieved. Very often, however, the captive environment does not match the ancestral environment and adaptation is challenged. “ (Price,  1999)

It is no surprise that when these animals are taken out of their “boring”, isolated and rather barren confines most will react to novel stimuli with fearful or even aggressive behavior. It seems that horses “(…) show a compensatory increase in activity when released from their stalls (Houpt et al., 2001).

Social isolation is a disturbing experience for horses, and isolated subjects show behavioral and physiological stress reactions (Mal et al., 1991).

It is in the light of all exposed above that we must consider that horses confined or isolated in barren environments such as those of conventional battery stalls, or cages are insufficient in providing desirable behavioral well-being, as they cannot perform the majority of their species specific behavior, fleeing, engaging in normal social behavior, explore the environment, exercise or even graze or walk.

In the end, it is really up to you whether you decide to cage your horse or not.

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Affiliative behavior in Equus caballus

Introduction

A review of literature on the social behavior of horses is likely to lead many to think equine society is governed solely by the establishment of social hierarchies, usually based on the outcomes of social conflict or competition, commonly referred to as agonistic behavior.

Agonistic interactions are social activities “related to fighting, whether aggression or conciliation and retreat.” (Wilson, 1975)

“Behavior patterns associated with fighting and retreat, such as attack, escape, threat, defense and appeasement.” (Slater, 1999)

The description of animal societies is mainly based on agonistic classifications, in which cooperation and affiliative behaviors were overshadowed by the competition-aggression-reconciliation paradigm generally emphasized by many writers.

Affiliative interactions refer to the activities between two or more (dyadic, triadic and so on) individuals within a social group with the function of developing, maintaining or enhancing social bonds. {Equus Ethogram Project}

konik stallions mutual grooming

Indeed, agonistic and affiliative behavior are inextricably intertwined (Price & Sloman, 1993) in the complexity of social interactions, making it a laborious task to filter away the units of behavior neatly into separate compartments for either one type of interaction, or the other.

Social interactions lay on a behavioral continuum, a continuous stream of movements  (Fentress, 1990; MacNulty et al, 2007) or spectrums of behavior (Abrantes, 2011):

“The distinction between any two behaviors is a matter of function; the borderline separating one category from the other is a matter of observational skill, contextual parameters and convention; the way we understand it all is a matter of definition.” (Abrantes, 2011)

For instance, in the ‘Agonistic ethogram of the equid bachelor band’ published by McDonnell & Haviland (1994), agonistic encounters were considered based on their intensity, running or flowing across a spectrum from “very quiet affiliative behavior to serious aggression” (McDonnell & Haviland, 1994).

In this Equus Ethogram Project, affiliative interactions will be classified separately from agonistic ones, at least when at all possible. A host of authors have extracted units of agonistic behaviors from the interwoven fabric of equine social interactions, so it should be likewise possible to extract those other units of behavior which promote group cohesion: affiliative behaviors.

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The results of a growing body of research on free-living mammals suggests that affiliative social interactions, those enhancing social bonds, have important fitness consequences for individuals ( Swedell, 2002; Weidt et al, 2007; Silk et al. 2003, 2010; Cameron et al. 2009; Frere et al. 2010; Wey & Blumstein 2012) engaged in them.

In horses as in most social mammals, affiliative interactions are usually described by mutual grooming, play and group resting. This ethogram considers including more subtle forms of affiliative behavior, such as the frequency or duration one individual is found sharing close proximity with others as an indication of their level of bonding (Hinde 1976; Garai 1992; Kleindorfer &Wasser 2004).

This Equus Ethogram Project is an on-going work, and the general framework, or particular sections and pages will be updated as new light is shed or brought to our knowledge.

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