Emmett, C., Digby, M., Pope, J. et al. 2021. Social behaviour in zoo bachelor groups: A case study of related South American fur seals. Animals 11(9), 2682.

Appropriate management of social groups is one of the greatest challenges that face zoos and aquaria worldwide. To facilitate breeding programmes, particularly in polygynous species, there is a need to house surplus males in bachelor groups, yet for pinnipeds, the social impact of this management strategy is unknown. The aim of this research was to enhance understanding of sociality in South American fur seals (SAFSs), with a particular focus on social dynamics in a related bachelor group, and consider implications for evidence-based management of this species in zoos. The subjects were four related male seals housed at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Social interaction and nearest neighbour data were collected between February and July 2019. Individuals engaged in both positive and negative social interactions. Positive interactions were more frequent than negative interactions, and no excessive negative interactions were observed. Temporal dynamics were observed in social relationships, and negative interactions did not increase with the onset of the breeding season. Reciprocity in dyadic relationships was variable across the study months, and nearest neighbours were not necessarily reflective of social partners. This research highlights the importance of longitudinal monitoring of social relationships and establishment of baseline social behaviour profiles to support evidence-based species management. We advocate that this research is extended, to further develop our understanding of SAFS social needs within zoo environments, to understand the differences between single-sex and mixed-sex groups and to identify the degree to which the extensive research conducted in other polygynous species (e.g., gorillas) is applicable in the social management of South American fur seals moving forwards.

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