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Social Behavior in a Herd of Captive Male Giraffes

By: Patrick Ziarnowski and Kaidi Fenrich | Mentor: Frank Logiudice

Abstract

Giraffes (Giraffa spp.) are a common feature of zoological institutions, where conditions differ from those of the wild, a reality that may cause behavioral changes. A recent management technique has been to house all-male herds in zoos that have not been selected for giraffe breeding, with breeding confined to certain zoos. To date, no studies have looked at social behavior in captive herds comprised exclusively of males. In a herd of one adult (named Emba) and two subadult male giraffes (named Rafiki and Gage), the dominant adult giraffe, Emba, demonstrated sociosexual behavior—apparent courtship, investigation, and flehmen responses—almost exclusively toward one of the subadult giraffes, Rafiki, and agonistic behavior towards both subadult giraffes. Often in combination with sociosexual behavior directed towards Rafiki, Emba displayed aggressive behavior in the form of hitting, which Rafiki rarely reciprocated. In response to Emba standing tall behind him, a dominance display, Rafiki frequently assumed a snout high posture, possibly indicating submission. In addition, behaviors regarded as affiliative, such as social rubbing and social exams, occurred between all giraffes. These behaviors varied in frequency between dyads and potentially may indicate social preferences. All giraffes attempted to mount at least once, though the two oldest conducted the majority of the mountings, and the recipient of the action was nonrandom. Ultimately, no statistical relationship was apparent between mounting and dominance.

KEYWORDS: giraffe, social behavior, zoo, captivity

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