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Separation distress in artificially-reared lambs depends on human presence and the number of conspecifics

By Jean-Loup Rault, Alain Boissy, Xavier Boivin

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Abstract

The way animals perceive partners, including humans, is yet relatively unknown. Research has shown that humans can provide social support or act as social substitute for domestic animals. Nonetheless, studies investigating the perception of humans by domestic animals in their social environment, i.e. alongside conspecifics, have been scarce. We investigated if humans could modulate lambs’ separation distress in a social environment paradigm. Artificially suckled lambs were familiarized to humans using positive tactile contacts from birth. A “familiar” and a “known” human had extensive and minimal contact with the lambs respectively. At four weeks of age, lambs were tested either individually or in a group of penmates. The test was a paradigm of “union-separation-reunion” (1½min each) by visually isolating the individual lamb from the group during separation. We used a factorial design by constituting groups of two sizes, ‘two’ vs. ‘three’, with or without a human included. Therefore, the group was either: “1 lamb+1 human” or “2 lambs” (for group sizes of two), “2 lambs+1 human” or “3 lambs” (for group sizes of three). Lambs showed the strongest distress behaviours when isolated and, to a lesser extent, when they had only one partner (P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 132
Issue 1
Pages 42-50
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.02.011
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Tags
  1. Group size
  2. Human-animal relationships
  3. Sheep
  4. social support