African wild dogs in Botswana arrive at consensus about when the pack will hunt by sneezing, according to scientists who studied the dogs and reported their “sneeze to leave” findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The international research team studied the endangered wild dogs at Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, where they watched social rallies – the basic greeting rituals when the dogs wake up from rest – to better understand their group behavior. They observed 68 such rituals among five different dog packs living in the Okavanga Delta to get a better understanding of why the dogs sneezed more before setting out.
Neil Jordan, a senior study author from University of New South Wales in Australia, said he couldn’t quite believe it when the research findings confirmed the hunch that what the dogs were doing was actually a kind of canine voting.
“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,” Jordan said.
Co-author Renee Walker of Brown University in the United States said it took an estimated 10 sneezes for the dog pack to head out – but not if the group’s leaders were active in the ceremonial sneezing.
“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,” Walker said.
The sneeze-voting essentially established a quorum in ways seen in other animals too, said co-author Andrew King of Swansea University in Britain.
“Quorums are also used by other social carnivores like meerkats, but 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,” King said.
The study was funded by grants to The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust by Wild Entrust International, Tusk Trust and various private donors.
Image: Neil Jordan/UNSW