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Two’s company? Solitary vixens’ motivations for seeking social contact.

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Title: Two’s company? Solitary vixens’ motivations for seeking social contact.
Author: Mason, G.J.; Hovland, A.L.; Akre, A.K.; Bakken, M.; Flø, A.; Koistinen, T.
Abstract: The flexible social organisation in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) suggests that social contact could enrich the housing of silver fox vixens (a selected line of red foxes) farmed for their fur. To investigate their social motivation, adult vixens housed in an operant apparatus were allowed to pull a loop for full physical contact with a same-aged vixen. The access cost was increased daily and their maximum price paid (MPP) measured. Five test and five stimulus animals were pair housed long-term in separate apparatuses over 5 weeks in November/December wherein each pair could have 12 h daily physical contact in a shared compartment. Prior to the operant trials, two food competition tests were completed to establish dominance relations within pairs. To examine vixens’ motives for contact, social behaviour during interaction was also recorded. Subsequently, the test foxes’ MPP for a comparator resource, food, was also measured and their relative price paid (RPP, %) for contact calculated. When access to the resource cage was free (FR1), at the start and end of the experiment, time spent in contact averaged approximately 1/6 (2 h) of the available time; this was stable between these periods. Neither visit rate to nor time spent in the shared compartment differed between the start and the end of the trial, indicating that the test subjects’ social motivation remained stable during the experimental period. The MPP (mean ± SE) for social contact averaged at 560 ± 160.6 pulls; this was significantly lower (P = 0.015) than the MPP for food (2108 ± 526.6 pulls), representing a RPP of 24.8 ± 3.36%. During social interaction agonistic gaping signals occurred (though never serious fights requiring intervention), but there were also bouts of play, social exploration and high levels of synchronous resting. Aggressive behaviour during the second food test predicted the levels of aggression during operant trials. RPP positively correlated with the total time spent together (r = 0.87, P = 0.054), and with the time spent resting together (r = 0.89, P = 0.046). Differences in RPPs for contact and levels of agonism between pairs illustrate that social contact between adult vixens is enriching for some, but may put welfare at risk for others, especially if they have no opportunity to retreat from aggression. However, levels of agonistic behaviour during, e.g. food competition tests may be a possible indicator of the compatibility between potential cage mates. Due to the low number of animals the result must now be replicated with further animals.
Date: 2011
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Related Publications: A. L. Hovland, A. K. Akre, A. Flø, M. Bakken, T. Koistinen & G. J. Mason (2011). Two’s company? Solitary vixens’ motivations for seeking social contact. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 135,110–120.

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