“How not to judge a deer by its cover”: a personality assessment study on captive adult red deer males (Cervus elaphus)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Bruno Esattore, Vedrana Šlipogor, Laura Saggiomo, Martin Walter Seltmann
Behavioural Processes
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Personality is not a uniquely human characteristic and it has been documented in a wide range of organisms, from mammals to birds, reptiles, fish and invertebrates. However, personality is still poorly understood in Cervids. Therefore, our study aimed to fill this gap by i) investigating personality and ii) exploring its links to dominance hierarchy, assessed by behavioral observations in 11 captive and tame male red deer (Cervus elaphus). Using questionnaires to assess personality, three trained volunteers rated these animals in 15 behaviorally composed adjectives with detailed descriptions, based on their overall impression at the end of the observation period. Behavioral data from animals was collected across three different situations, namely “feeding” (i.e., high competition for a scarce resource), “normal” (i.e., no external stimuli) in a group setting, and “handling” (i.e., stressful situation due to human manipulation) in an individual setting. We estimated dominance hierarchies between the individuals based on situations of average and high competition (i.e., “normal” and “feeding”) via the Clutton-Brock Index (CBI). Using Fleiss’ Kappa for inter-rater reliability, only five of our 15 behavioral adjectives showed acceptable reliability. Using principal component analysis, four of these adjectives formed one personality component labelled “Confidence/Aggressiveness”. We found that although “Confidence/Aggressiveness” did not correlate with CBI, ratings of two adjectives loading onto this component, namely “Confident” and “Submissive”, significantly correlated with the CBI, indicating that questionnaire ratings reflect real behavioral variation in red deer males. Our study provides the first assessment of personality in male red deer and adds to the growing literature on Cervid personality, offering the basis for future personality research in ungulates.


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