Quantified Analyses of Aggression Pattern in a Captive Population of Musk Deer (Moschus Sifanicus)
Alpine musk deer (Moschus sifanicus) are endangered as a result of habitat degradation and loss and centuries of widespread poaching. Consequently, musk deer farming was introduced as a measure to not only protect musk deer but also to provide a means for sustainable musk supply. An increased understanding of the social structure of captive populations is essential for both successful farming and improved welfare of individuals. This study recorded agonistic interactions between captive individuals at Xinglongshan Musk Deer Farm (XMDF), northwest China. The relationship between aggressive interactions and the individual's age and gender and opponent health was analysed. From our observations we found that stable social hierarchies developed within both captive male and gender-mixed musk deer groups. There was no significant correlation found between only age of individual and their status in the social hierarchy, and it was thus concluded, as social rank was not determined singularly by age, that a combination of other factors, such as experience and origin of the individual, better explain rank orders. Three forms of aggressive behaviour were expressed between males, in which threatening (56.38%±7.28%) was significantly more frequent than attacking (17.86%±5.94%) and displacing behaviours (25.78%±3.66%). There was no attacking behaviour observed in interactions initiated by males towards females, however displacing (70.85%±4.15%) was more common than threatening (29.15%±4.15%). Conflict-initiating male deer demonstrated more attacking and threatening behaviour towards male opponents than to female ones, however the differences were statistically insignificant. These results can be implemented into musk deer farming management practices through 1) rotating individuals within an enclosure on a frequent basis; 2) removing males from female enclosures after successful mating and 3) enclosing males in single sex enclosures. Furthermore, in order to improve musk deer farming and captive musk deer welfare, management systems should be kept relatively consistent in order to assist in establishing the stable social hierarchy patterns in captive populations.
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