Meet the new kick-ass boys on the equine block: the marauding “transient”

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A researcher who investigated the elusive Tibetan wild ass has unearthed evidence of what he says is a new social class of males, who spend their time sneaking around other stallions’ territories to secure mating opportunities.

Prameek Kannan, a Master’s graduate from the Environmental Science Program at New York’s Pace University, has named this new category of males as “transients”.

Male equids have long been thought to consist mostly of two groups: social bachelors, and solitary, territorial males.

Kannan has now provided evidence of a third category in his study, the findings of which have been reported in the journal Behaviour.

Kannan travelled to some of the harshest terrain on Earth to study the Tibetan wild ass. To many, such animals represent freedom and adventure, but others view them as competition for limited forage and water.

While attempting to establish the first ethograms for this species — a descriptive analysis of their behaviors — Kannan made his unusual discovery.

While most sexually active male equids stick to the same territory, he observed a few that were entering other male’s territories and courting the females within.

Kannan, supervised by Dr Michael Parsons of nearby Hofstra University in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-India), quantified these behaviors and arrived at some stark conclusions, defining the behaviors of his newly discovered “transients”.

“Transients” routinely moved into — and retreated from — other male territories, they reported.

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The reduced time spent around other males and the increased time spent courting females within other male’s territories — with minimal time spent in each courtship event — led Kannan to conclude that they were employing “sneaky” tactics to secure mating opportunities before hastily retreating.

Kannan expressed this outcome as “a joy to learn something about the unique courtship behavior of a maligned species that has not been thoroughly studied”.

While Kannan has now moved on to mitigating human-wildlife conflict in areas of dense tiger populations, he is excited about the prospects of geneticists coming to study the transient males to find whether these animals have adapted a true alternative mating system, or whether this social class is a transitionary period where bachelors — not yet ready to challenge a rival — must pass through.

Parsons added: “While I’m excited about this discovery for science, I am equally pleased for the success of a recent graduate that gave up the creature comforts of modern living in New York City to endure rough field conditions that persistently challenged his health and ability to cope in some of the harshest environments on Earth.

“To me, overcoming the challenges of science in such hostile environments should be celebrated, especially when it results in naming a new social class.”

The discovery of the ‘transient’ male Tibetan wild ass: alternative ‘sneaky’ mating tactics in a wild equid?; Prameek M. Kannan; Michael H. Parsons; Pushpinder S. Jamwal; Pankaj S. Chandan; Faith E. Parsons and Jigmet Takpa; Behaviour
2016 E-ISSN 1568-539X; DOI: 10.1163/1568539X-00003407

The abstract can be read here

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