STUDY RE­VEALS CAMELS’ DECEITFUL BE­HAV­IOUR DUR­ING MAT­ING SEA­SON

▶ Bulls on farms some­times use force or trick­ery on cows that are un­will­ing to mate. Daniel Bard­s­ley re­ports

The National - News - - NEWS SCIENCE -

Camels gen­er­ally have a friendly ap­pear­ance and a calm na­ture de­spite oc­ca­sional dis­plays of short tem­per that may cause them to kick or spit.

But a study just pub­lished in a UAE sci­en­tific jour­nal un­earths an un­ex­pected side to the drom­e­dary, re­veal­ing it to some­times be deceitful and ag­gres­sive.

Un­der cover of dark­ness, bulls can en­gage in du­plic­i­tous and vi­o­lent be­hav­iour to se­cure a mate, ac­tions that can cause dis­tress to the fe­males in the herd.

The Saudi Ara­bian sci­en­tists who car­ried out this re­search say it is un­like any­thing they have seen with other crea­tures. The first au­thor of the study, Prof Mo­hamad Abdulmohsen, said he was sur­prised by what was seen.

“Pre­tend­ing and de­cep­tion I’ve no­ticed only in camels,” said Prof Abdulmohsen, who

has also stud­ied the be­hav­iour of other large farm an­i­mals. “Other an­i­mals don’t pre­tend. They fol­low their needs in a straight way.”

While the re­sults of the study are of sci­en­tific in­ter­est, they could also of­fer prac­ti­cal lessons. They could be use­ful to camel farm­ers who want to re­duce stress to male and fe­male camels, pos­si­bly im­prov­ing low con­cep­tion rates.

The study in the Emi­rates Jour­nal of Food and Agri­cul­ture is en­ti­tled, Eval­u­a­tion of Mat­ing and the Causes of Noises at Night in Small Drom­e­dary

Camel Herds, and is writ­ten by four mem­bers of the Col­lege of Ve­teri­nary Medicine at King Faisal Univer­sity in Ho­fuf, east­ern Saudi Ara­bia.

To un­der­stand what was caus­ing night-time noises, the re­searchers took de­tailed ob­ser­va­tions of camel be­hav­iour at three pri­vate farms in east­ern Saudi Ara­bia.

Work­ing in three-hour shifts dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son, which runs from late Oc­to­ber to early Fe­bru­ary, they watched day and night to en­sure they would not miss any­thing.

Of most in­ter­est was the way in which, when there were rel­a­tively few cows in a herd, the bulls would find a way to mate with un­will­ing fe­males.

To do this, they would lie down next to a cow and pre­tend to be asleep, lulling her into a false sense of se­cu­rity and sleep, be­fore tak­ing ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion.

“It’s the first record that camels pre­tend they are rest­ing,” Prof Abdulmohsen said. “The male camel is wait­ing for her to go deeply to sleep. He stops ru­mi­nat­ing, stops jaw move­ments, then watches her.”

Bulls also force­fully took cows. The sci­en­tists found this tended to hap­pen when there were fewer than 50 to 80 fe­males in a herd with one male.

The fe­males try to re­sist, mov­ing about and mak­ing loud grunt­ing noises, which cause the dis­tur­bance of­ten heard at night.

Other meth­ods to try to shake off the male can lead to costly con­se­quences to the farmer.

“If the male tries to force her and she doesn’t ac­cept him she will bite him at the knee joint,” Prof Abdulmohsen said.

The cows will also curve their head back­wards and bite the male in the front of the neck.

Bit­ing can re­sult in in­flam­ma­tion of the joint, which could lead to arthri­tis, a con­di­tion that the study leader said was ex­pen­sive to treat.

In the pa­per, the au­thors de­scribe the forced mount­ing of fe­male camels as rape, but ex­perts have in the past urged cau­tion about draw­ing any par­al­lels be­tween what in the an­i­mal king­dom is termed rape, and rape in hu­mans.

In a 1989 pa­per en­ti­tled, Rape

in Non­hu­man An­i­mal Species; Def­i­ni­tions, Ev­i­dence and

Im­pli­ca­tions, Dr Craig Palmer sug­gested that def­i­ni­tions should not pro­voke “un­war­ranted im­pli­ca­tions about hu­man rape”.

“Be­hav­iour meet­ing the def­i­ni­tion of rape ex­ists in sev­eral non-hu­man species. How­ever, com­par­isons of these species do not pro­vide clear im­pli­ca­tions for ei­ther prox­i­mate or ul­ti­mate ex­pla­na­tions of hu­man rape,” he wrote.

The tak­ing of cows by stealth or force is less likely to oc­cur in the wild, Prof Abdulmohsen said, be­cause males would spend much of their time pre­oc­cu­pied with other things, such as find­ing enough to eat.

“The en­ergy will be dis­placed,” he said. “They will use the en­ergy they’re get­ting from food. The prob­lem will only ap­pear when they’re kept in farms un­der the con­trol of hu­man be­ings.”

It’s the first record that camels pre­tend they are rest­ing. The male is wait­ing for her to go deeply to sleep PROF MO­HAMAD ABDULMOHSEN Study leader

AFP

Camels in Al Dhaid desert north-east of Dubai city. The study found that camels roam­ing free are ex­tremely un­likely to prac­tise the sort of be­hav­iour seen in drom­e­daries kept on farms

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