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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Study reveals 'aggressive and deceitful' behaviour among camels during mating season

A study has shown that male camels will sometimes mate with unwilling female dromedaries after tricking them into thinking they are asleep

Camels in Qassim desert, 350 kilometres north of the Saudi Arabia capital Riyadh. AFP
Camels in Qassim desert, 350 kilometres north of the Saudi Arabia capital Riyadh. AFP

Camels generally have a friendly appearance and a calm nature despite occasional displays of short temper that may cause them to kick or spit.

But a study just published in a UAE scientific journal unearths an unexpected side to the dromedary, revealing it to sometimes be deceitful and aggressive.

Under cover of darkness, bulls can engage in duplicitous and violent behaviour to secure a mate, actions that can cause distress to the females in the herd.

The Saudi Arabian scientists who carried out this research say it is unlike anything they have seen with other creatures. The first author of the study, Prof Mohamad Abdulmohsen, said he was surprised by what was seen.

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“Pretending and deception I’ve noticed only in camels,” said Prof Abdulmohsen, who has also studied the behaviour of other large farm animals. “Other animals don’t pretend. They follow their needs in a straight way.”

While the results of the study are of scientific interest, they could also offer practical lessons. They could be useful to camel farmers who want to reduce stress to male and female camels, possibly improving low conception rates.

The study in the Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture is entitled, Evaluation of Mating and the Causes of Noises at Night in Small Dromedary Camel Herds, and is written by four members of the College of Veterinary Medicine at King Faisal University in Hofuf, eastern Saudi Arabia.

To understand what was causing night-time noises, the researchers took detailed observations of camel behaviour at three private farms in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Working in three-hour shifts during the breeding season, which runs from late October to early February, they watched day and night to ensure they would not miss anything.

Of most interest was the way in which, when there were relatively few cows in a herd, the bulls would find a way to mate with unwilling females.

To do this, they would lie down next to a cow and pretend to be asleep, lulling her into a false sense of security and sleep, before taking advantage of the situation.

“It’s the first record that camels pretend they are resting,” Prof Abdulmohsen said. “The male camel is waiting for her to go deeply to sleep. He stops ruminating, stops jaw movements, then watches her.”

Bulls also forcefully took cows. The scientists found this tended to happen when there were fewer than 50 to 80 females in a herd with one male.

The females try to resist, moving about and making loud grunting noises, which cause the disturbance often heard at night.

Other methods to try to shake off the male can lead to costly consequences to the farmer.

“If the male tries to force her and she doesn’t accept him she will bite him at the knee joint,” Prof Abdulmohsen said.

The cows will also curve their head backwards and bite the male in the front of the neck.

Biting can result in inflammation of the joint, which could lead to arthritis, a condition that the study leader said was expensive to treat.

In the paper, the authors describe the forced mounting of female camels as rape, but experts have in the past urged caution about drawing any parallels between what in the animal kingdom is termed rape, and rape in humans.

In a 1989 paper entitled, Rape in Nonhuman Animal Species; Definitions, Evidence and Implications, Dr Craig Palmer suggested that definitions should not provoke “unwarranted implications about human rape”.

“Behaviour meeting the definition of rape exists in several non-human species. However, comparisons of these species do not provide clear implications for either proximate or ultimate explanations of human rape,” he wrote.

The taking of cows by stealth or force is less likely to occur in the wild, Prof Abdulmohsen said, because males would spend much of their time preoccupied with other things, such as finding enough to eat.

“The energy will be displaced,” he said. “They will use the energy they’re getting from food. The problem will only appear when they’re kept in farms under the control of human beings.”