A father to play with. Scientists have published surprising results concerning the behaviour of wild horses

2020 - 08 - 31
A father to play with. Scientists have published surprising results concerning the behaviour of wild horses.

Ground-breaking results have been yielded by the research of a three-member team of scientists from the University of South Bohemia and the Czech University of Life Sciences. Their article published in the prestigious magazine Animal Cognition brings surprising conclusions from the area of wild horse behaviour, specifically, the fatherly behaviour of stallions.

“Even though we expected that the behaviour of stallions towards foals would be positive to a certain extent, the results were surprising even for us,” explained Katerina Sandlova, ethologist from the University of South Bohemia. “Not only is the stallion much more tolerant to his offspring than the mares, but unlike mares, he also actively plays with them. Besides, the stallion is preferred to mares in other social interactions as well. These include friendly sniffing and jaw clapping, which is a specific behaviour of young horses expressing respect to the recipient,” added Katerina Sandlova. The research took place over the past years in the reserve of wild horses and other big ungulates of the European Serengeti in the Central Bohemian town of Milovice, not far from Prague. The reserve was founded by the conservation organization European Wildlife in 2015.

It was particularly colts who showed interest in stallions. “Therefore, we assume that the stallion could be a role model for young males, from whom they could learn their behaviour by watching them and they will use it in their adulthood for maintaining and protecting their own herd,” mentioned Martina Komarkova from the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague.

The research has shown that the task of a harem stallion is not “only” to protect the herd and procreate offspring. It is the stallion who is the parent dedicating himself significantly more to the foals than their mothers. The mares mainly bring them into line, and you will not see them play with their offspring. On the contrary, the stallion not only tolerates the play of the foals, he even joins it actively and the mock fighting with colts may sometimes make a very wild impression. It is more likely that the foals will tease their mother, but as far as their father is concerned, they literally adore him and eagerly take in his every gesture and motion.

The whole research was unique in terms of its focus. “Even though the behaviour of horses is studied by many scientific groups all around the world, nobody has so far dealt with the fatherly behaviour of stallions more closely”, added Katerina Sandlova. In her opinion, this scientific “lack of interest” is probably caused by the fact that breeders of domestic horses often keep stallions separate from mares with foals, as they are afraid, among other things, of foals being injured or killed by the stallion even though these incidents are, in fact, isolated.

The research will continue in the years to come. “We are aware of the fact that this study concerns a relatively small number of animals, so our research has definitely not ended with this partial success. Nevertheless, we hope that these promising results will help refresh the view of the stallion breeding, both in the traditional breeding and in the breeding of the horse family in zoos and preserves,” Katerina Sandlova pointed out.

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