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Keywords:

  • mouflon;
  • storage-telemetry;
  • lambing;
  • social isolation;
  • activity pattern

Abstract

We studied the behaviour of free-ranging female mouflon sheep (age 3-5 years) in the period periparturition. The study area is situated in the north-east of Germany (52°59′N, 13°50′E). For continuous data collection, we used the storage-telemetry-system ETHOSYS. Activity and foraging behaviour of five females were recorded every second by electronic sensors integrated in a collar round the sheep's neck (weight 300 g). Whenever the animals visit a special ‘link-station’, installed at a combined saltlick/feeder station, the recorded data are transmitted from the collar to the station and then to a laptop. In addition, we recorded continuously the presence of sheep at the saltlick using a camera-system, including a daylight and an infra-red camera.

Activity of female mouflon ranged from 8 to 10 hours daily during late winter. The animals spent the major part of that time feeding (70-80%). The sheep visited the saltlick every two to three days regularly. However, from late March to early April, every animal stayed away from the ‘link-station’ for about two weeks. This meant spatial isolation from social companions. When returning, these sheep were accompanied by a lamb. Parturition was assumed to take place during 2-3 consecutive days of markedly decreased activity. In the night from the first to the second day of this period, we found a unique activity pattern observed in all sheep. A short activity bout during the second half of the night was interpreted as the exact time of lambing. Spatial and temporal changes in behaviour during parturition are discussed with regard to other wild ungulates as well as domestic animals.