Wild dogs “vote” with their noses: African packs “sneeze” to make decisions

A group of wild dogs in Africa uses sneezes as a kind of voting system over whether or not to move onto the next place, a new study has found.

The African wild dogs in Botswana flit between rest periods and energetic social greetings, called rallies, before moving to the next place. A group of researchers involving Swansea University, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Brown University wanted to learn more about this kind of behaviour. 

“We recorded details of 68 social rallies from five African wild dog packs living in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and couldn’t quite believe it when our analyses confirmed our suspicions,” said Dr Neil Jordan from UNSW.

“The more sneezes that occurred, the more likely it was that the pack moved off and started hunting. The sneeze acts like a type of voting system,” he said.

This is the first time sneezing has been shown to have any significance in these wild dogs, other than for the usual purpose of course.

“The sneezes act as a type of quorum, and the sneezes have to reach a certain threshold before the group changes activity,” said Dr Andrew King, from Swansea University. “Quorums are also used by other social carnivores like meerkats.” 

As if this weren’t strange enough, it seems sneezes from more dominant members of the group carry more weight than others. “Our finding that the quorum number of sneezes changes, based on who’s involved in the rally, indicates each dog’s vote is not equal,” said King.

“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,” said lead author Reena Walker from Brown University.

“However, if the dominant pair were not engaged, more sneezes were needed – approximately ten – before the pack would move off”.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B

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