Enduring social relationships in a population of crab-eating zorros, Cerdocyon thous, in Amazonian Brazil (Carnivora, Canidae)

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Abstract

  • 1) Crab-eating zorros, Cerdocyon thous, in Amazonian Brazil weighed 5.2 kg (S.D. 0.6, n= 19), exhibited no sexual dimorphism, lived in social units of 2-5 adults of > 1 year old, and occupied territories (restricted polygons) of 532 ha (range 48-1042 ha, n= 21).
  • 2) The zorros were omnivorous, fruit being the most frequent food (occurring in 57% of 72 faeces in the dry season) comprising 26.4% by volume of undigested faecal remains. Insects were frequently eaten (86%), and vertebrates rarely (15.2%).
  • 3) Zorros were territorial. The ranges of neighbours overlapped minimally and were very stable in configuration, both from month to month and between dry and wet seasons. Members of each social unit shared on average 88.3% of 200 × 200m grid cells within their territory. Members of male-female breeding pairs were within 100 m of each other for 63% of the activity period, their proximity being greatest during the mating season (July-August). Parents travelled in close company with their adult-sized offspring, and stayed within 100 m for up to 93.3% of the activity period.
  • 4) Territories differed in habitat composition. Overall, zorros spent most time in wooded savanna (33.9%) and scrub (30.5%). They did not utilize habitats in direct proportion to their availability, using some more (e.g. scrub) and some less (e.g. open savanna) than expected. Habitat preferences differed between wet and dry seasons, with elevated habitats being favoured during the wet season.
  • 5) Individuals differed in their habitat utilization, and parents had different habitat usage to their yearling offspring; this difference was exaggerated in the dry season when the yearlings used lowlying habitats apparently disfavoured by the parents. Differences in habitat utilization between group members were least in the wet season, when widespread flooding forced the shared use of higher ground.
  • 6) Each of two social units larger than two individuals comprised a pair and their three adult-sized offspring (totalling five males and one female). In three cases, a yearling daughter was present in the breeding season, but none of these bred. Non-breeding offspring were seen frequently in the whelping area and in close company with the breeding pair's cubs. This is the first proof of group-living in South American zorros.
  • 7) Five dispersal events were monitored, and revealed a ‘good neighbour’strategy in which newly formed pairs set up their territories adjoining their natal territories. In each case individuals returned intermittently to their original territory where they were in close and amicable company with their parents. One male, having dispersed, returned home frequently without his mate to tend the next generation of his parents’cubs. Of four dispersing males, two subsequently returned to their natal group following the deaths of their mates at least 3-13 months after their initial dispersal, in one case after breeding elsewhere.

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