Captive-reared European hamsters follow an offensive strategy during risk-assessment

Mathilde L. Tissier, Christophe A. H. Bousquet, Julie Fleitz, Caroline Habold, Odile Petit, Yves Handrich, Jan M. Hemmi
2019 PLoS ONE  
Understanding whether captive-reared animals destined to reintroduction are still able to discriminate predators has important implications for conservation biology. The endangered European hamster benefits from conservation programs throughout Europe, in which several thousand individuals are released into the wild every year. Despite this, the anti-predator strategy of hamsters and their ability to maintain predator discrimination in captivity remain to be investigated. Here, we explore the
more » ... edator discrimination behaviour of captive-reared European hamsters and their response to different predation cues. When first exposed to the urine of cats and goats in a Y-maze test, hamsters spent more time close to the cat scent rather than to the goat scent. In a second experiment, during which hamsters were exposed to a non-mobile European ferret (inside a cage), hamsters significantly increased the time spent close to the ferret's cage and displayed aggressive behaviour towards the ferret. Furthermore, they did not take refuge inside an anti-predation tube (APT), a device designed to upgrade wildlife underpasses and reconnect wild hamster populations. Finally, when exposed to a mobile ferret (but without physical contact), hamsters displayed mobbing and aggressive behaviours towards the ferret, before taking refuge inside the APT. Taken together, our results show that captive-reared hamsters are still able to detect and react to predation cues, but that they initially adopt an offensive strategy (grunting, spitting, mobbing) during the risk-assessment phase. After risk assessment, however, hamsters used the APT as a refuge. Our study provides important insights into the anti-predator behaviour of hamsters. Testing the efficacy of the APT, a device that will allow upgrading wildlife underpasses for the hamster and other rodents, is also of great importance and is instrumental in conservation efforts for these species.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210158 pmid:30640936 pmcid:PMC6331116 fatcat:pwizx3nyi5fxlg3es5bxrzy67e