The first description of dominance hierarchy in captive giraffe: Not loose and egalitarian, but clear and linear

Wild giraffes live in extensive groups in the fission fusion system, maintaining long social distances and loose social bonds. Within these groups, resources are widely distributed, agonistic encounters are scarce and the dominance hierarchy was reported in males only, while never deeply analysed. In captivity, the possibility to maintain inter-individual distances is limited and part of the resources is not evenly distributed. Consequently, we suggest that agonistic encounters should be more frequent, leading to the establishment of the dominance hierarchy. Based on the differences in resource-holding potential, we suggested that the rank of an individual would be affected by age and sex. Based on hypotheses of prior ownership, we tested whether rank was positively affected by the time spent in a herd and whether it was stable in adult females, which were present long-term in the same herd. We originally monitored four herds of Rothschild giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildii) in Dvůr Králové zoo (n = 8), Liberec zoo (n = 6), and two herds in Prague zoo: Prague 1 (n = 8) and Prague 2 (n = 9). The Prague 1 and Prague 2 herds were then combined and the resulting fifth herd was observed over three consecutive years (2009, 2010, and 2011) (n = 14, 13, and 14, respectively). We revealed a significantly linear hierarchy in Dvůr Králové, Prague 2 and in the combined herd in Prague. Rank was significantly affected by age in all herds; older individuals dominated the younger ones. In females, rank was positively affected by the time spent in the herd and adult females in Prague maintained their rank during three consecutive years. This study represents the first analysis of the dominance hierarchy in the captive giraffe, and discusses the behavioural flexibility of the social structure in response to monopolisable resources in a captive environment.

Last Updated
January 28, 2021
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