Behavioural profiles of African bovids (Hippotraginae)
Behavioural assays for taxon-specific groups aid in assessing individual welfare and population planning (e.g. choice of enclosures, age/sex structure of groups, candidates for breeding and reintroduction). Personality approaches to measuring individual variation have focused less on ethological coding of individual behavioural differences of the animals and more on keeper questionnaires. Although use of questionnaires is a convenient and efficient technique, responses vary with the diversity of keeper experience. Typically, keeper contact is minimized when animal groups are managed for recovery and reintroduction. We report on a systematic technique for measuring behavioural traits under conditions where individuals are in large social groups with minimal keeper contact. This case study was conducted at a conservation breeding centre that is part of a network of institutions managing sustainable herds of ungulates with long-term goals of recovery, reintroduction and ecological restoration. We developed a behavioural assay system for the subfamily Hippotraginae (African horse antelope), based on ethological coding of video samples. We field-tested this behavioural assay system, using focal observations of breeding males in herds of addax (Addax nasomaculatus) and sable (Hippotragus niger). Behavioral profiles of breeding males differed significantly for activity (G2 = 107.74, df = 4, p < 0.001), social (G2 = 16.99, df = 2, p < 0.001) and proximity categories (G2 = 6.57, df = 2, p < 0.05). We discuss the utility of coding video samples, statistical approaches to assessing variability in individual behaviour profiles and the value of a hierarchical nested approach to analyzing behavioural categories. Considering the need for sustainability in population planning, we recommend applying this evolutionary ecology framework for designing behavioural assay systems especially for species managed for recovery and reintroduction.
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