Sneezing for Democracy: The Secret Language of African Wild Dogs

If you think democracy is a human invention, think again. There are some animals that also use voting systems to make group decisions. One of them is the African wild dog, a social and endangered carnivore that lives in sub-Saharan Africa.

African wild dogs are highly cooperative hunters that rely on teamwork to catch their prey, usually antelopes. They live in packs of up to 20 individuals, led by a dominant pair. Before they go hunting, they engage in a ritual called a rally, where they greet each other, wag their tails, and dash around.

How African Wild Dogs Vote by Sneezing

But how do they decide when to hunt? According to a study published in 2017, they use sneezes as a form of voting. The researchers observed five wild dog packs in Botswana and found that the more sneezes at a rally, the more likely the pack was to set out on a hunt.

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The Secret Language of African Wild DogsHowever, not all sneezes are equal. The study also found that the sneezes of the dominant dogs had more influence than those of the lower-ranking ones. If the alpha pair initiated the rally, only three sneezes were needed to guarantee a hunt. But if a subordinate dog started the rally, it took 10 sneezes to reach a consensus.

The researchers suggest that sneezing is a way for the dogs to communicate their readiness and motivation to hunt. It may also help them coordinate their actions and maintain social cohesion. Sneezing is not unique to African wild dogs, as other animals such as meerkats and capuchin monkeys also use it for social purposes.

African wild dogs are fascinating animals that have evolved complex behaviors to survive in their environment. Unfortunately, they are also one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa, with only about 6,600 left in the wild. They face threats such as habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, disease, and poaching.

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