Social behaviour in stallion groups (Equus przewalskii and Equus caballus) kept under natural and domestic conditions

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The aim of this study was to investigate social behaviour in differently reared stallions in their respective environments; one group of stallions was reared under typical domestic conditions whereas the other group was reared and lives under natural conditions. The domestic group consisted of 19, 2-year-old stallions (Equus caballus), which were all weaned at 4 months of age and experienced either individual or group housing facilities before being pastured with the other similarly aged stallions. The natural living and mixed age group of Przewalski stallions (E. przewalskii) consisted of 13 stallions, most of which were juveniles (n=11, ≤4 years; n=2, >9 years). The domestic group was studied in a 4-ha enclosure at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences and the Przewalski group under free-ranging conditions in a 75-ha enclosure in the Askania Nova Biosphere Reserve, Ukraine. Behavioural data was collected during 168 h of direct observation. The occurrence of 14 types of social interactions was recorded and group spacing behaviour was studied using nearest neighbour recordings. In spite of very different environments, reflecting domestic and natural rearing conditions, many similarities in behaviour was found. Play and play fight behaviour was very similar in the two stallion groups. Quantitative differences were found in social grooming since Przewalski stallions groomed more frequently (P=0.004), and in investigative behaviours, since domestic stallions showed more nasal (P=0.005) and body sniffing (P<0.001), whereas Przewalski stallions directed more sniffing towards the genital region (P<0.001). These differences may, however, be attributed to environmental factors and in the period of time the stallions were together prior to the study period. Quantitative differences appeared in some agonistic behaviours (kick threat, P<0.001; and kick, P<0.001), but data do not support earlier findings of Przewalski horses being significantly more aggressive than domestic horses. In general, Przewalski stallions engaged in more social interactions, and they showed less group spacing, i.e. maintained a significantly shorter distance between neighbours (P<0.001). The study indicates that also domestic horses, which have been reared under typical domestic conditions and allowed a period on pasture, show social behaviour, which is very similar to that shown by their non-domestic relatives.