African wild dogs vote over pack decisions by sneezing, a new study has found
The joint research by academics from Swansea, Australia and the United States monitored endangered dogs at the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust.
They found the dogs used sneezes to decide when to move off to hunt after making camp for greeting ceremonies called “social rallies”.
Dr Andrew King, of Swansea University, said the sneezes acted as a “quorum”.
The study was carried out by zoologists from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, Brown University, in the United States, and Swansea University’s College of Science.
Previously it had been thought the dogs, which are among the world’s most-endangered species, were simply clearing their airways.
But, while zoologists recorded the details of 68 social rallies, they noticed the more sneezes there were, the more likely it was the pack moved off and started hunting.
Dr King said: “The sneezes act as a type of quorum, and the sneezes have to reach a certain threshold before the group changes activity.
“Quorums are also used by other social carnivores such as meerkats.”
However, the study suggested some sneezes hold more weight than others.
Reena Walker, of Brown University, said: “We found that, when the dominant male and female were involved in the rally, the pack only had to sneeze a few times before they would move off.
“However, if the dominant pair were not engaged, more sneezes were needed – approximately 10 – before the pack would move off”.
The team’s research will be published in scientific journal, The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
African wild dogs
- One of the world’s most-endangered species
- Native to all of Africa
- Largest populations remain in southern Africa and the southern part of east Africa (especially Tanzania and northern Mozambique)
- Their main predators are lions and humans
- They are social and gather in packs of around 10, but some packs number more than 40
- They are opportunistic predators which hunt animals such as gazelles
- In a sprint, African wild dogs can reach speeds of more than 44mph (70km per hour)
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/World Wildlife Federation/BBC