CZAAWE Resource Article

Feeding behaviour affects nursing behaviour in captive plains zebra (Equus burchellii)
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Equids spend more than half of the day feeding. Lactation is a very demanding form of maternal investment. In an environment such as a zoo, where no grass but several feeding sites are present, conflict between suckling behaviour of the foal and feeding behaviour of the lactating mother should occur. We observed 20 foals of captive plains zebra, Equus burchellii, at the Dvůr Králové Zoo, Czech Republic, and collected data concerning suckling events during 17 months of observation. First, we examined whether feeding by the mother while nursing affected suckling behaviour. We found that when the mother was feeding, the proportion of suckling bouts she terminated decreased with increasing age of the foal, whereas it did not change when she was not feeding. This result supported the trade-off between suckling and feeding behaviour which has been reported in other ungulates. Second, we examined what affected interruptions of feeding behaviour of the mother during the suckling bout. The proportion of interruptions of feeding by the mother during nursing increased with increasing age of her foal. This coincides with declining time spent nursing. In addition, younger mothers interrupted their feeding behaviour during suckling bouts more often than older ones. Mothers interrupted feeding during the suckling bout more often when they nursed a daughter than when they nursed a son. The results of our study show that feeding while suckling could reduce parent–offspring conflict and improve welfare of captive foals and mares.