African wild dogs use sneezes to vote on pack decisions, study finds

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African wild dogs use sneezes to vote over pack decisions, a new study has found.

The animals gather to decide when to move away from an area to hunt – in a bid to make their choice known the animals sneeze until an consensus is reached, scientists found.

The joint research by academics from Swansea, Australia and the US monitored the endangered species at the Predator Conservation Trust in Botswana.

They found the dogs used the system when they gather for greeting ceremonies known as “social rallies”. 

Zoologists studied 68 social rallies in their research. Previously, the sneezes were put down to the dogs clearing their airways, but it became clear that the more sneezes there were, the more likely the dogs were to move off and start hunting.

Dr Andrew King, of Swansea University, said the sneezes represented a “quorum”, or the minimum number of members of a group or organisation required to make a decision.

He told the BBC: “The sneezes act as a type of quorum, and the sneezes have to reach a certain threshold before the group changes activity.

“Quorums are also used by other social carnivores such as meerkats.”

The study found some sneezes were more important than others. 

Reena Walker, of Brown University, told the BBC: “We found that, when the dominant male and female were involved in the rally, the pack only had to sneeze a few times before they would move off.

“However, if the dominant pair were not engaged, more sneezes were needed – approximately 10 – before the pack would move off”.

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