Cub related behaviour in breeding groups of Bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis)
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In most mammals, females that take exclusive care of the offspring with only 5-10% of the species exhibiting paternal care. In contrast to birds, little is known about paternal care in mammals. The bat-eared fox, Otocyon megalotis is one species where both the female and the male provide care of the cubs. To find out more about behaviour in breeding groups of bat-eared foxes this study focus on cub behaviour and parental care in three breeding groups of bat-eared foxes on Benfontein game farm near Kimberly, Northern Cape, South Africa. Each of the observed groups consisted of two to five adults and two to four cubs, with ten adults and nine cubs in total. We fitted four bat-eared foxes, three males and one female, with VHF radio collars to facilitate the research. The animals had never been followed before and were successfully habituated to the car within three weeks. Behavioural data of all animals was collected using Cybertracker on a PDA. Both male and female attended the natal resting sites at equal proportions when the cubs were too young to go on forage trips. However, the cubs spend most of their time alone, mostly below ground. When an adult was present they played and rested for the majority of the time. Male bat-eared foxes participated in all aspects of parental care except suckling. Males played more with the cubs than the females but did not groom them more. When the cubs joined foraging trips they spend most of their time walking and foraging like the adults, in the vicinity of a male. They were always accompanied by one or more adults, usually two. The time just before sunset was mainly used for playing and the time after sunset for foraging. As the cubs grew older they started to play less and forage more. I only occasionally observed adults feeding pups. To summarize, the cubs spend most of their time below ground, they may not have been guarded as well as previously suggested and female adults have had a bigger share in parental activities such as grooming and guarding the resting sites than previously suggested. Part of our data may be biased due to possible suboptimal habituation and a part is still unclear since we know nothing about relatedness within our bat-eared fox groups. However, we were able to confirm that both parents and helper foxes play an important role in the raising and feeding of cubs and we learned more about group composition. In order to draw more reliable conclusions regarding fitness aspects of helping behaviour, inter-group genetic relations, mating patterns, parental care and cub(-related)behaviour, we need to continue our observations to eliminate the effects of suboptimal habituation and include genetic research on our foxes in order to clarify relatedness.