The hunt was successful! (Photo: Megan Claase)
Read aloud "Shall we set off for the hunt?" Behavioral researchers have identified this question in the packs of African wild dogs. In dog democracy, therefore, a characteristic sneeze means "I am in favor". If enough of this "yes-sneeze" can be heard at a rally meeting, the community begins to roam the savannah.

The intensively piebald coat is their trademark and has given the African wild dogs their scientific name: Lycaon pictus, which means something like colorful dog. However, the charismatic robbers of the African savannah differ significantly from wolves or dogs: In addition to anatomical features, they are characterized above all by a special social behavior. While it is often very rough in packs for wolves, the mostly about ten animals of the wild dog pack are very peaceful with each other and the ranking is much less pronounced. It is a men's company with a lady: The pack includes a central couple, which produces the offspring. The young females then always leave the pack.

Should we leave?

As the researchers around Neil Jordan from the University of New South Wales report in Sydney, the social behavior of the wild dogs also includes a striking welcome ceremony after resting. Often they then go on a hunt - sometimes not. "I wanted to understand this collective behavior better and noticed that the dogs are making conspicuous noisy sounds, " says Jordan. This led to the suspicion that this could be a communication element in the social behavior of the animals. The researchers followed up on this trail by analyzing video recordings of 68 of these characteristic ceremonies in five packs in the savannahs of Botswana.

As can clearly be seen, sneezing is not just about cleaning the fine nose of the animals: "The more sneezes you could hear, the more likely it was that the pack would set off on the hunt. So sneezing works like a kind of voting system, "says Jordan. In other situations, however, they do not use the sound in a characteristic way, as shown by the observations. "The sneeze acts as a kind of quorum - a necessary number of votes of the members present for a decision in a committee, " sums up co-author Andrew King of Swansea University (UK).

Voting system with top plasticity

However, as the researchers noted, there is one more striking aspect in the wild dog voting system: "Not all animals have the same voice weight, " King said. According to the observations, the outcome of the vote also depends on who has initiated the quorum to leave: If the dominant male or female of the pack has begun the ceremonial, significantly less sneeze in the pack were needed, so that the team on the way to Hunt made. "But if the dominant couple was not involved, more sneezes were needed - about ten - before the pack broke up, " says C-author Reena Walker of Brown University in Providence USA. display

Unfortunately, it is questionable how long the democratic sneezing of the wild dogs will sound in the savannahs of Africa, because they are strongly threatened. It is estimated that only about 3, 000 to 5, 500 animals live in stak fragmented ranges in Africa. It is to be hoped that protective measures can prevent this charismatic species from extinction.

Original work of the researchers:

  • Proceedings of the Royal Society B, doi: 10.1098 / rspb.2017.0347
© science.de - Martin Vieweg
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