A Democracy to Sneeze at

African hunting dogs are very social creatures, living in large groups, ranging from 2 to 27 individuals. These canids not only live in large groups, but they also hunt collectively in these packs.  Recently, it has been shown that these wild dogs have a sort of democracy within their packs, where they vote before they set out to hunt.

They have what scientists have described as “social rallies” where the dogs seem to vote on whether or not to move off from their resting spot. Despite there being more dominant dogs, all members of the pack appear to have a say in the actions of the collective.

Observing free-ranging African wild dogs in a reserve in Botswana, a group of scientists noticed that the dogs seem to have a specific voting system – where a sneeze represents a vote. With a short sharp exhale through the nostrils, the dogs have a say in whether or not the group moves off.

It is not an entirely democratic society however, as if a dominant member of the pack initiates the rally, less votes are required. It was observed that when a dominant dog sneezed first, only approximately 3 sneezes were needed for the entire group to move off, but when it was an inferior dog that initiated the rally, a lot more votes where needed, with an average of 10 sneezes recorded before movement. This is still however proof that all dogs in the pack have a say in whether or not they move, and it is not the dominant members who make all the decisions.

African hunting dogs are not the only animals to have shown such democratic behaviours. Meerkats have been seen emitting moving calls before moving to a new foraging patch, honey-bees emit piping signals and white faced Capuchin monkeys trill before moving off.

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