Giraffes prefer a fair fight

Giraffes don’t fight much, says Jessica Granweiler, a master’s student at the University of Manchester in England who studies the largest mammals in nature. When they do, be careful.

“Fighting is extremely rare because it is extremely violent,” Ms. Granweiler said.

When older adult males compete for territory or mating rights, their pairs of horn-shaped ossicones grow with the force of their long necks and can cut the flesh of their opponents, injuring and sometimes even killing a fighter. .

But some forms of giraffe dueling serve other purposes. In a to study published last month in the journal Ethology, Ms Granweiler and her colleagues reported some findings on fighting behavior that help giraffes establish social hierarchies. They showed that the animals did not take advantage of the smaller members of their herds, but instead practiced their headshots with males of similar stature in a way that to a human might even seem fair or honorable.

Such findings could help conservation from declining animal populations.

Ms Granweiler and her colleagues observed the social behavior of giraffes in the small Mogalakwena River reserve in South Africa from November 2016 to May 2017. They began recording the details of these fights – essentially one who fought who and how in the giraffe. world.

They were surprised to find that giraffes, like humans, can be right-handed or left-handed when it comes to training. Even the youngest animals showed a clear preference, although unlike humans it seemed they were evenly split between left-handed and right-handed people.

The researchers also noticed that the young men argued more with each other and almost always chose opponents of similar size to themselves – there wasn’t much bullying going on. A bar brawl effect also occurred, where a practice match appeared to infect the crowd and cause more fighting around them.

The younger males also trained a little differently. Ms Granweiler, an undergraduate student at the time of the work, said they were probably practicing the technique. They could have measured their strength against their peers as they swung their heads against each other’s chests and buttocks.

Mature adults trained as well, but spent more time hugging each other in wrestling matches. Ms Granweiler surmised that these interactions were assessments of each other’s strength without resorting to full-fledged battles.

She also found that men almost always respected an opponent’s preference for which side to fight from. If two left-handers were facing each other, for example, they would line up head-to-tail. If one opponent was a right-hander and the other a left-hander, they would line up head-to-head.

“I don’t know if it’s a mutual agreement – respect my side and I will respect yours,” Ms. Granweiler said. “I have never seen a man try to cheat.”

While the fights may be fair, sometimes they still had a referee. Ms Granweiler said older and more mature men sometimes interrupt fights between younger men. These men might watch their peers or try to keep the young brandons from getting a little overconfident.

“It’s a clever way to confuse lower-ranking men to maintain dominance and monopolize women,” said Monica Bond, who studies the social dynamics of giraffes at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, but did not did not participate in this study. “Like most mammals, it’s a tough world for guys.”

Ms Granweiler added that “that is also probably her way of saying” Remember, I am also the strongest here. “”

Dr Bond called the article “well done”, although she noted that it was studying a relatively small population with some possible degree of relatedness between individuals. Although she said her inferences were valid, it was not clear whether more free-range males from a more genetically diverse population might behave differently.

Ms Granweiler said the more we understand giraffe behavior, the better we will be able to deal with animals. How and when males might fight, for example, could be important information for zookeepers or other small wildlife sanctuaries.

Dr Bond added that these types of social interactions can also teach us why populations may be larger or smaller in given areas – important knowledge as giraffe populations are declining in many parts of Africa.

“If the dominant male monopolizes matings, then the effective population size is much smaller than it would be if all sexually mature males were able to mate,” she said. “These behaviors determine the amount of genetic diversity in males passed on to the next generation. “

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