Effect of social system on allosuckling and adoption in zebras



Jan Pluháček, Department of Ethology, Institute of Animal Science, Přátelství 815, 104 00 Praha – Uhříněves, Czech Republic.

Email: janpluhacek@seznam.cz


Although nursing non-filial offspring (allonursing) represents costly behaviour to the female, it occurs in a variety of taxa, including ungulates. The only three currently existing species of zebra differ in their ecology and social system. In the wild, mountain zebra Equus zebra and Grevy's zebra Equus grevyi live in arid environments, while plains zebra Equus quagga inhabit savannahs. Mountain and plains zebra mares form long-term stable herds associated with a social hierarchy, whereas Grevy's zebra mares form loose associations of short duration. In this study, we investigated the occurrence of allosuckling in three zebra species at the Dvůr Králové Zoo, Czech Republic, during 1626 h of observation. We recorded no successful allosuckling bouts and only 1 and 22 attempts to allosuckle by foals of mountain and plains zebra, respectively, whereas we observed 117 attempts and 13 successful allosuckling bouts by Grevy's zebra foals. Moreover, more than half of all observed Grevy's zebra foals succeeded in allosuckling at least once. When rejecting an allosuckling attempt, Grevy's zebra mares were less aggressive than mountain and plains zebra mares. When a Grevy's zebra mare allowed occasional allosuckling by a non-filial foal, the probability of long-term allosuckling was smaller than that in mountain and plains zebra. We also present the first evidence of adoption in Grevy's zebra. We suggest that higher tolerance towards non-filial offspring, including the occurrence of allosuckling in Grevy's zebra, was affected by the different social systems of zebra species.