Play behaviour in Urial (Ovis orientalis bocharensis) lamb
Abstract: Welfare constitutes of health, physiology, behaviour and reproduction. It becomes very important when a species suffers in any of these parameters and thus, the assessment of welfare should be carried out. Play behaviour has been identified as a positive behaviour performed when satisfactory circumstances are present. In order to assess welfare through play in domesticated animals it is essential to know the natural behaviour of the ancestral species. The purpose of this study was to evaluate and describe the ontogeny of play behaviour in Urial sheep lambs, the ancestor of our domesticated sheep, during their first weeks of life. With this, also to contribute in the conservation of this vulnerable mountain ungulate and the maintaining of its predator-prey relationship. The study was conducted in Nordens Ark and two female lambs born on the 3rd of May 2018 were the objects of it. They were bottle-fed because of the lack of the mother. An ethogram and a check sheet were used, and continuous focal observations were carried out during three periods: two, four and six weeks old. Each period consisted of two days of observations and three sessions of 2 hours per day (in exception of week two which only had two sessions): morning, midday and afternoon. Lambs stayed indoors with 2 hours session outdoors at week two, and outdoors at week four and six. The results at week two were very different from week four and six, showing a higher amount of play behaviour at week two which later greatly decreased at week four and six. Locomotor play was found to be the predominant type of play throughout the six weeks, with jump and run being the prevalent play behaviours. Manipulating objects was another prevalent play behaviour and its frequency was seen to increase from week two to four. However, the most prevalent behaviour performed by the lambs along the study was to sit or lie down, showing an abnormal juvenile behaviour pattern. Play behaviour in these lambs was less complex, contained less elements than that of domesticated lambs. This was totally surprising as domestication generally leads to a less complex behaviour than found in the wild type. It was concluded that sheep were under some stress situation (i.e. predators, lack of the mother, lack of natural habitat) or under-fed, and hence, displayed less play behaviour as would have done in normal circumstances. The lack of the mother influenced the results, and it is believed that the peak of play behaviour at week 2 could be explained by the motivation to move into an open and bigger area.
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