Less aggression when females rule


By Eve Davidian and Oliver Höner

The stronger and more aggressive sex dominates the weaker sex? This simplistic view of male-female dominance relationships is common but falls short of the complexity of how dominance hierarchies are established in animal societies. In our recent study we teamed up with 18 scientists to compare male-female dominance relationships in nine species of mammals, including seven primates, rock hyraxes and… spotted hyenas! The collaborative study revealed that in female-dominated societies, male and female group members relied on submissive signals and gestures to establish and maintain dominance, whereas in male-dominated societies, aggressive behaviours prevailed.

Organising the social life in a group around a clear dominance hierarchy, where each group member knows where they stand, is an effective way to avoid escalated violence and injuries in many animal societies. These hierarchies can be derived from the outcome of agonistic interactions between group members; the individual who shows submission to another will be considered as the subordinate of the pair.

Until recently, most studies of dominance and power focused on ‘intrasexual’ hierarchies, which are derived only from male-male or female-female interactions. This implies that males and females live in separate worlds. They obviously don’t: males and females of many group-living species do compete over the same resources and frequently interact. By studying the sexes separately we are missing out on key aspects of the social and sexual life of animals. Also, because scientists working on different species often used different methods and behaviours to construct animal hierarchies, any attempt to compare patterns between species has been a blurry dream.

In a first step to facilitate comparisons, our colleagues and ourselves compiled field behavioural observations from nine mammal species. We determined the outcomes of 11,499 agonistic interactions among males, among females, and between males and females. We then applied a set of commonly used methods to rank all members of a group relative to one another and construct the ‘intersexual’ dominance hierarchy for each study group and species. Based on these hierarchies, we then calculated the degree of female dominance over males using five different indices.

With our collaborators, we found that the rank order of individuals in the dominance hierarchy was the same irrespective of the methods used and that all indices of female dominance were well correlated with each other. These results are very encouraging because they indicate that the hierarchies and resulting degree of female dominance that are inferred from these methods and indices are robust and comparable. Another very neat result is that our data confirmed that intersexual dominance varies along a continuum from strict male dominance (in chacma baboons) to strict female dominance (in Verreaux’s sifakas) and encompasses species where males and females may share power and ‘co-dominate’. Our results also confirm that the degree of female dominance may vary from one group to the other within the same species. This was particularly prominent in vervet monkeys and rock hyraxes. [discover here our findings showing similar variation in spotted hyenas!]

In a second step, we investigated whether there was a relationship between the degree of female dominance in a species and its ‘dominance style’, that is, whether individuals rely more on certain types of behaviours than others to establish and maintained their dominance relationships. For this, we first had to standardise how we labelled behaviours across the nine species.

Standardisation is key for comparisons. Each species behaves in its own, unique way and because given acts and signals may mean different things in different species – e.g., an individual putting its tail up is considered an aggressive signal for spotted hyenas whereas it is considered a submissive signal in chacma baboons. We therefore divided behaviours into four standardised categories which we then used for the analyses:

  1. Aggressive Acts: e.g., chase, bite, stand over;
  2. Submissive Acts: e.g., retreat, jump aside;
  3. Aggressive signals: e.g., tail up (spotted hyenas), stand up, stare;
  4. Submissive signals: e.g., tail up (chacma baboons), grimace, ears flat, grunt vocalisation.

Our results revealed striking differences in dominance style depending on whether the society was mostly dominated by males or by females. The higher the degree of female dominance in a species, the less frequently animals used aggression to establish and maintain their dominance relationships. More specifically, in strongly female-dominated species, such as spotted hyenas, animals of both sexes more often display submissive signals and less often use aggressive acts compared to male-dominated species, such as chacma baboons, where aggression predominates. So long to the sticky idea that spotted hyenas – in particular the females – are hyper-aggressive beasts…

These results suggest that there are structural differences between male- and female-dominated societies, which very interesting and surely worth investigating in greater detail. With this work, we show that we have robust methodological tools to study intersexual relationships in group-living species in a standardised way. This constitutes a stepping stone towards more conceptual studies such as studies on the ecological and evolutionary causes of variation in intersexual dominance within and across animal societies.

Original publication

Kappeler PM*, Huchard E*, Baniel A, Canteloup C, Charpentier MJE, Cheng L, Davidian E, Duboscq J, Fichtel C, Hemelrijk CK, Höner OP, Koren L, Micheletta J, Prox L, Saccà T, Seex L, Smit N, Surbeck M, van de Waal E, Girard-Buttoz C (2022) Sex and dominance: How to assess and interpret intersexual dominance relationships in mammalian societies. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 710.

Further information

Davidian E*, Surbeck M, Lukas D, Kappeler PM, & Huchard E* (2022) The eco-evolutionary landscape of power relationships between males and females. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 37(8):706-718.

Vullioud C*, Davidian E*, Wachter B, Rousset F, Courtiol A*, Höner OP* (2019) Social support drives female dominance in the spotted hyaena. Nature Ecology & Evolution 3:71-76. *contributed equally

Emotions and cultural importance help us understand the “beef” between pastoralists and large carnivores

A dive into the fascinating world of human-carnivore relationships


By Arjun Dheer

There isn’t a “one size fits all” solution to the problems that can arise in areas where humans live near wild animals. But one thing is consistently important: making sure that the people who live alongside the animals are on board with whatever management decisions are put into place to promote coexistence. This is especially true when it comes to potentially dangerous animals like large carnivores – for example, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my). Humans have long had a love-hate relationship with large carnivores: they’re aesthetically pleasing, awe-inspiring, and powerful, but also potentially damaging to human livelihoods due to their habit of killing livestock. They might be easy to admire, but they’re definitely not easy to live with!

How can we understand what makes people tick when it comes to managing large carnivores? The traditional focus has been on livestock depredation: the propensity of large carnivores to kill animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys. Predictably, most studies have found that the more livestock killing that goes on, the more people want the large carnivores either killed or moved away. More recently, scientists have investigated the importance of psychological factors like the emotions people feel towards large carnivores and of the importance carnivores have in their culture. Positive emotions and cultural importance were found to predict the acceptance of conservation-oriented management strategies; and negative emotions, more invasive strategies. Past research looked at these factors separately, but did not compare them at the same time to see which is the best predictor, which would provide wildlife managers with information on what to target when looking to reduce human-carnivore conflict.

So what did we do? We looked at all of them simultaneously in order to draw comparisons. We chose to do this for multiple large carnivore species – spotted hyenas, lions, and leopards. And we zeroed in on three primary management strategies that have been used at our field site (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, or NCA) and are applicable worldwide wherever humans and large carnivores live in the same area: no action (letting the carnivores be), relocation (moving them away), and lethal control (killing them). We conducted interviews with 100 members of the Maasai community across the NCA to gather the data. Respondents rated the emotions of joy, disgust, and fear and the cultural importance they felt towards the large carnivores. They were also asked to report how many cattle, goats, sheep, and donkeys they lost to the carnivores over the past three years. And we asked them to what degree they’d accept the management strategies for each species.

What was the outcome? Interestingly, emotions and cultural importance were stronger predictors for the acceptance of management strategies than livestock depredation. Between the emotions, joy was the strongest predictor; it was positive for no action and negative for relocation and lethal control. Cultural importance showed a trend similar to joy. Overall, respondents accepted no action towards the carnivores and rejected relocation and lethal control. Between the species, lions were viewed the most positively and hyenas the least.

Implications of the study:

All this goes to show how important emotional and cultural aspects are in human-wildlife relationships. That’s not to say that livestock depredation isn’t important, but that it might be overemphasized. Multi-pronged approaches that combine psychological and cultural factors with the close involvement of local communities can help pave the way for continued human-carnivore coexistence. Maybe scientists have been barking up the wrong tree with so much focus on livestock depredation!

Original Publication:

Dheer A, Davidian E, Jacobs MH, Ndorosa J, Straka TM, Höner OP (2021) Emotions and cultural importance predict the acceptance of large carnivore management strategies by Maasai pastoralists. Frontiers in Conservation Science 23, 1–13.


Why do the top dogs get the pretty ladies?


A story of sex, stress and hyena poops

By Eve Davidian

In most animal societies, resources are not shared equally among members of a group. Those at the top of the social hierarchy eat the tastiest food, get the comfiest sleeping spots, and can hang out – and more if they hit it off – with the most attractive and fecund mates. In the animal world, where lifetime achievement is largely determined by the number of offspring one leaves behind, it is rather straightforward why individuals should work hard to reach the top and try to remain there for as long as they can.

What we still don’t quite understand is how social rank influences reproductive success. Do high-ranking males sire more offspring and offspring of higher quality because they are stronger and more attractive? Or is it because they are less “stressed” by competition with other males and can invest more in courting females?

To answer these questions, we did fieldwork in the African savannah. Lots of fieldwork. Over 20 years of searching, identifying, assessing paternities, and monitoring the behaviour of thousands of free-ranging spotted hyenas in the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania. We also collected over 400 steaming hyena scats to measure the concentration of cortisol, an estimate of the physiological costs – or so-called “stress” – borne by a hyena. [To know what it takes to be a hyena poop hunter click on the poopers below.]

In our study published in the journal Functional Ecology, we demonstrate that interactions with other males are more stressful for low-ranking males than for their high-ranking rivals and that this restricts the time and energy they can invest in courting the most fecund – and most contested – females. We also found that males have to juggle romance and more mundane duties like getting acquainted with new clan mates and maintaining old friendships and strategic alliances.

But low-ranking males shy away from these stressful activities and spend more time away from other clan members, munching on bones or chilling in stinky puddles. High-ranking males, on the other hand, need less time on their own to detox and de-stress, and can invest a lot more in fostering friendly relationships with females. And that’s something hyena females are very much into!

Another very neat result was that philopatric – “stay-home, mama’s boys” – males prioritise reproduction over the fostering of social ties, and focus their reproductive efforts on high-quality females – a likely consequence of their native status and higher social rank compared to immigrants. These results very nicely match our previous work on male reproductive skew and the fitness consequences of male dispersal strategies where we found that philopatric males reproduce earlier than immigrants and sire offspring almost exclusively with top ranking females.

In contrast to many species where males use their physical strength, long horns and sharp teeth to deter rivals – or even to sexually coerce females – male spotted hyenas do not engage in violent fights to get to the top of the hierarchy and to sire offspring [males couldn’t coerce females even if they wanted to because female genitals are masculinized into a rape-proof device]. Why then are low-ranking males more stressed out than high-ranking males?

Male hyenas may not be ruthless brutes but they are no peaceful hippies either. Dominance relationships in hyena society are primarily determined by how many social allies a hyena can count on when in conflict with others. Low-ranking males usually are newcomers and lack strong alliances. They are also more vulnerable to being used as scapegoats by others and this is likely to be a major source of stress. Scapegoating is frequent among hyenas (and other animals) and likely serves as a means to release frustration and cope with stress. In hyenas, it often takes the form of a chain of dominance whereby successive males redirect aggression onto another, lower-ranking male. And when the lowest-ranking male of such a chain has no scapegoat nearby, rushing tail up at an innocent jackal, a rock, or even our research vehicle seems to do the job.

But don’t feel too sorry for low-ranking males. Their time will come. The social rank of male spotted hyenas is determined by a queuing convention. Most males eventually climb the social ladder and get to enjoy the perks of being the top dog.

Our results reveal that even in a society where dominance relationships are formalised by strict social conventions, interactions among males can incur physiological costs that are high enough to trigger behavioural adjustments with (costly) reproductive implications. Our study reshapes our understanding of how social rank correlates with ‘stress’ and how male-male competition impacts physiology, sociality and fitness. It also provides new perspectives on the potential physiological mechanism underlying the emergence of alternative reproductive and dispersal strategies.

Original publication:

Davidian E, Wachter B, Heckmann I, Dehnhard M, Hofer H, Höner OP (2020) The interplay between social rank, physiological constraints and investment in courtship in male spotted hyenas. Functional Ecology

Further information

Davidian E, Courtiol A, Wachter B, Hofer H, Höner OP (2016) Why do some males choose to breed at home when most other males disperse? Science Advances 2 e1501236.

Davidian E & Höner OP (2021) A king among queens. Frontiers EcoPics. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 19(10): 573.

Höner OP, Wachter B, East ML, Streich WJ, Wilhelm K, Burke T, Hofer H (2007) Female mate-choice drives the evolution of male-biased dispersal in a social mammal. Nature 448: 798-801.

Davidian E*, Benhaiem S*, Courtiol A, Hofer H, Höner OP, Dehnhard M (2015) Determining hormone metabolite concentrations when enzyme immunoassay accuracy varies over time. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 6(5):576-583. *contributed equally

Friends over muscles: How female hyenas came to dominate males


By Oliver Höner and Eve Davidian

In most animal societies, members of one sex dominate those of the other. Is this, as widely believed, an inevitable consequence of a disparity in strength and ferocity between males and females? Not necessarily. Our new study shows that in spotted hyenas, females dominate males because they can rely on greater social support, not because they are stronger or more competitive in any other individual attribute. The main reason for females having, on average, more social support than males is that males are more likely to disperse and that dispersal disrupts social bonds. This study was conducted in collaboration with the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier (ISEM-CNRS, France). Our results were published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Spotted hyena females are often portrayed as archetypes of powerful and ferocious females. They are on average heavier than the males, have highly masculinised outer genitalia (a ‘pseudo-penis’ and a ‘pseudo-scrotum’), and usually occupy the highest position in the society. But according to the new study, it is not their manliness that allows them to dominate males.

When two hyenas squabble, the one that can rely on greater social support wins, irrespective of sex, body mass or aggressiveness. Differences in social support between two individuals correctly predicted who will be the dominant in almost all encounters and in all contexts – between natives and immigrants, members of the same and different clans, residents and intruders, and individuals of the same and opposite sex.

Female dominance thus emerges from females being more likely to receive greater social support than males. What is so fascinating is that it all works without any direct involvement of other hyenas. In the end, it’s all about assertiveness and how confident a hyena is of receiving support if needed.

08_07a_Blog_Female dominance_crop

For this study, our team analysed the outcome of 4133 agonistic interactions between 748 hyenas from eight different clans monitored for 21 years in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. To estimate potential social support, we developed an algorithm that predicted for each clan member, which of two interacting hyenas it would support; this algorithm was derived from behavioural observations of social support and relatedness estimates based on one of the most comprehensive pedigrees of a free-ranging mammal. To tease apart the effects of social support and intrinsic attributes such as body mass, one needs to evaluate each effect while controlling for the presence of the other. When this is done, the effects of sex and body mass appear negligible.

Clear dominance relationship

In many social contexts, female and male hyenas can rely on equal social support and are equally likely to win. But there is one exception: when natives interact with immigrant clan members. Hyena society is highly nepotistic and social support is primarily given to kin. Native clan members live among their relatives and have a competitive advantage over immigrants because immigrants lose their social bonds when they disperse from home. In this context, females have the upper hand because immigrants are usually males.

Female dominance in spotted hyenas is therefore driven by the sex bias in dispersal and the demographic structure of the clan: when the clan contains a high proportion of immigrant males, female dominance is nearly absolute. But when the clan contains many native males, males win almost as often as females and the sexes are co-dominant.

Implications of the study:

Identifying the determinants of dominance relationships between the sexes is fundamental to understanding the evolution of reproductive strategies, gender roles, and sexual conflicts. Our findings show that social dominance of one sex over the other – a trait that characterises gender roles – does not need to be a direct consequence of sex or physical strength, but can be shaped by the social environment.

By demonstrating the key role of social support in mediating the establishment of dominance – and sex-biased dominance – the study improves our understanding of the social impact of nepotism, political alliances, as well as emigration and immigration patterns in animal and human societies.

Original publication

Vullioud C*, Davidian E*, Wachter B, Rousset F, Courtiol A*, Höner OP* (2019) Social support drives female dominance in the spotted hyaena. Nature Ecology & Evolution 3:71-76. *contributed equally

Media outlets

Hyena girl power explained. CNRS-news, 19th November 2018.

Further information

Davidian E, Courtiol A, Wachter B, Hofer H, Höner OP (2016) Why do some males choose to breed at home when most other males disperse? Science Advances 2 e1501236.

Höner OP, Wachter B, East ML, Streich WJ, Wilhelm K, Burke T, Hofer H (2007) Female mate-choice drives the evolution of male-biased dispersal in a social mammal. Nature 448:798-801.

To eat or to mate that’s the question


By Eve Davidian

To reproduce is the ultimate goal of all living creatures. But to achieve this, individuals first have to survive long enough, and so must eat. The more, the better? Not so sure. A good diet may make you strong and appealing to potential mates but an excess of food can turn out to be counterproductive.

Jage, a male from the Ngoitokitok clan wanted it all, to feast and to mate, but he learnt the hard way that one sometimes has to choose. One day, after months spent courting females of his clan, he was lucky enough to find favor with Uvumiliva, a young and high-ranking female (to say, a nice piece). But there was a catch; Jage had feasted earlier in the morning and his belly was so bloated that he could not seal the deal.

It should be pointed out that mating is a very tricky task for male spotted hyenas because females’ private parts are masculinized into a pseudo-penis. This means that reaching seventh heaven requires full cooperation from the female – she has to stand still, put her head down and retract her pseudo-penis. But even when the female does cooperate, the male still has to show great acrobatic skills. It does take males some time and practice to get it right, and those with little experience usually are clumsy and sorely try the female’s patience.

On that hot day, Jage tackled the task. But no matter how much he wiggled and waggled, his huge, flabby belly kept barring the way. Jage was exhausted by all this physical activity. Just picture yourself running a marathon while aiming at a bullseye with an arrow, all this after having devoured a huge platter of meat! Jage was panting and drooling, and had to take regular breaks to catch his breath. Meanwhile, Uvumiliva remained amazingly calm and supportive – she actually got her name, meaning ‘patient’, after that day.

Jage really was not at his best that day. In a moment of weakness, he even tried to blame it all on Nyemeleo, a rival male born in the Shamba clan that had just joined the Ngoitokitok clan. Of course Nyemeleo was not responsible for Jage’s misery; apart from standing beside the couple and peeping at them, which let’s admit was slightly sleazy, Nyemeleo was not really interfering. Maybe Nyemeleo simply wanted to show off his athletic body and perfectly-sized belly, hoping that Uvumiliva would change her mind and pick him instead of the chubby guy. But quite clearly Nyemeleo’s presence did not help Jage to keep his focus on the target. Hyena sweethearts do like to have their privacy and usually do their ‘business’ in remote areas of their clan territory. After spending hours peeping (yes, but for Science!) at the trio, we had to leave them. We hoped for the best but our expectations were low.

Four months later – the duration of gestation in spotted hyenas – Uvumiliva did not give birth to cubs, suggesting both that Jage’s attempts failed and that Uvumiliva did not give Nyemeleo a chance. Let’s hope that Jage at least learnt a lesson from this unfortunate turn of events and that he now thinks twice before having an umpteenth slice of meat.

Moral of the story: Better eat light than miss the boat.

Here is the video showing Jage’s setbacks:

It’s tough to be a male in love


By Eve Davidian

Spotted hyena males can be very persistent when they have a crush on a female. They may follow the female’s every movement: lie down a few meters away from her when she decides to rest, observe her when she changes her position or lifts her head, and get up and follow her when she walks away – in human society, such a behavior would be considered as stalking. In spotted hyenas, males use this rather exhausting strategy to foster and maintain a friendly relationship with the female – and more if they hit it off. Staying nearby a female also allows the male to displace rivals if they come too close to their loved one or to defend the female if she is being aggressively harassed by another male – harassment by males occurs regularly but is a far less successful strategy than a charming courtship.

There was a period when Kondo, one of the males in the Ngoitokitok clan, was very much into the female Aiba and was following her wherever she went. Aiba seemed ok with this rather old guy sticking around. They actually made quite a cute couple sleeping close to each other. One day, as we were approaching them by car, Aiba got up and walked away from her resting place – and from Kondo. Kondo was then deep asleep and did not react to her departure. When he woke up 15 minutes later, yawning and stretching his legs, he immediately checked the place where his girlfriend was resting. As soon as he realised that Aiba was gone he jumped up and scrutinised the surroundings to see where she was. But Aiba was nowhere to be found. Kondo looked very nervous indeed; running around and sniffing the ground for cues, pricking his ears up, running again in great excitement. It was obvious that he was desperate to find Aiba again.

We took pity on Kondo and tried to show him the direction Aiba had taken but Kondo was not paying attention. He kept trying to pick up her scent and eventually ran in the wrong direction. Poor Kondo! For more than two weeks, he had bet everything on Aiba and would have to start from scratch with another female if he did not find Aiba quickly. But no worry, when we saw Kondo again three days later he was reunited with his beloved. It seemed that after all Aiba did not resent Kondo for his lack of attention.

Here is what a male looks like when desperately looking for his lost female:

Mama’s boys are not losers in spotted hyenas!


By Eve Davidian and Oliver Höner

Males that stay at home are not second-class males but can breed as successfully as their more adventurous competitors that leave home, our new study on spotted hyenas shows. The results were published in the open access journal Science Advances.

In most mammals, there are two kinds of males: those that stay at home and those that disperse from home to breed elsewhere. In the scientific literature, stay-home males were generally considered as ‘losers’ that failed to join another group and that father few offspring. Our new study now demonstrates, for the first time in a group-living mammal, that stay-home (philopatric) males and dispersers are not inherently different and have similar reproductive success. Our study further shows that their choice to stay at home or leave home is the outcome of a process during which all males answer the same question: which group will provide me with the best fitness prospects? Whether a spotted hyena male stays at home or hits the road simply depends on whether his birth clan or another clan contains the highest number of young females when he wants to start breeding.

View of the western side of the Ngorongoro CraterFor this study, we monitored the entire population of spotted hyenas inhabiting the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. We combined two decades of demographic data from the eight clans with data on the behaviour, survival, and reproductive success of more than 250 males to investigate the causes and fitness consequences of male clan choice.

In natural populations, group sizes and the number of young females fluctuate due to chance and environmental effects. Thus, when there are more than two groups, the home group is less likely to contain the highest number of young females than a non-home group. As expected, most hyena males in the Ngorongoro Crater dispersed to another clan. Yet, we found that twice as many males stayed at home than we had expected based on the distribution of young females only, suggesting that staying at home comes with advantages.

The main advantage is provided by their mothers. In the matriarchal system of spotted hyenas, females can influence the competition among males. Mothers provide social support to their stay-home sons and ensure they acquire a high social rank among breeding males. This gives the mama’s boys privileged access to both food and females, allowing them to invest a lot of time consorting females. And this pays off. Genetic paternity analyses showed that stay-home males father their first cubs at a younger age than dispersers and father almost exclusively cubs with high-ranking females — females of high reproductive value because they are most successful at rearing offspring. This is the first empirical evidence in a group-living mammal, that stay-home males can be equally, if not more, successful as dispersers.


Dispersal is a key driver of ecological and evolutionary processes, yet scientists still do not fully understand why individuals of the same sex of a species differ in their propensity to disperse. By showing that dispersal patterns can be shaped by the distribution of breeding partners across groups, our study expands our understanding of the processes leading to the coexistence of philopatry and dispersal within a sex.

Original publication

Davidian E, Courtiol A, Wachter B, Hofer H, Höner OP (2016) Why do some males choose to breed at home when most other males disperse? Science Advances 2 e1501236.

Further information

Höner OP, Wachter B, East ML, Streich WJ, Wilhelm K, Burke T, Hofer H (2007) Female mate-choice drives the evolution of male-biased dispersal in a social mammal. Nature 448:798-801.

Höner OP, Wachter B, Hofer H, Wilhelm K, Thierer D, Trillmich F, Burke T, East ML (2010) The fitness of dispersing spotted hyaena sons is influenced by maternal social status. Nature Communications 1: 60.


Triplets survived!


By Oliver Höner

We just got confirmation that a new triplet litter survived to adulthood in the Crater! This is very exciting news because spotted hyenas only very rarely give birth to triplets and raising all three cubs of a triplet litter to adulthood (2 years of age) is extremely rare! Spotted hyena females only have two functional teats, forcing mothers of triplet litters to show great organisational skills to allocate sufficient suckling time for each cub.

This is only the third ever reported case of surviving triplets in spotted hyenas! The mother is Mkakati, the alpha female of the Forest clan. The other two litters were also reared in the Ngorongoro Crater, both by Kiwanda, the former alpha female of the Ngoitokitok clan. We had previously performed genetic analyses to verify that Mkakati was indeed the mother of the three cubs. Confirming maternity with genetic data is important because hyena mothers can, in rare cases, adopt cubs form another female.

Mwanga with triplet

We now also finalised the paternity analysis for all three cubs. In contrast to the two previous triplet litters that were sired by a single male, the three cubs of Mkakati were sired by two fathers. This is in line with our observations from twin litters where 84% of litters are sired by a single male but 16% are sired by two different males. These results are very interesting for our study of female mate choice and of male reproductive success.

Wild dogs back in the Crater!


By Oliver Höner

After more than 30 years of absence, African wild dogs have been sighted again recently on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater! A group of four strong and healthy adult dogs roamed though the territory of the Forest clan on the western side of the Crater floor.

African wild dogThese are very exciting news because African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) went almost extinct in the Serengeti ecosystem in the 1990s. They  are highly social and live in a complex social and breeding system that is quite different from that of all other social carnivores, including free-ranging domestic dogs.

Unfortunately, some of the characteristics of their social system makes it difficult for African wild dogs to repopulate areas with no or very low densities of wild dogs and highly fragmented areas. Wild dogs have been, and still are, persecuted by humans when they are seen as threat to domestic lifestock. Furthermore, there is strong evidence to suggest that invasive handling and vaccination have adverse effects that may even lead to the death of entire packs. And once packs are reduced to small sizes, and suitable habitats are fragmented and altered by humans, populations rarely recover. As a result, African wild dogs have gone extinct in many areas in Africa and are considered ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (see the website of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species).

We hope that these iconic, beautiful and athletic carnivores feel comfortable in the Crater and stay for a long time to come!

Further Information

On the social system of African wild dogs and the adverse consequences of invasive handling and vaccination: Websites of the Painted dog Research Trust and African Wild Dog Watch.

Scientific publications on African wild dogs and the Achille’s heel of socialityAllee effects in cooperative breeders, and potential ecological traps.