acta ethologica

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 103–110 | Cite as

Mating tactics of male feral goats (Capra hircus): risks and benefits

  • Fiona C. Saunders
  • Alan G. McElligottEmail author
  • Kamran Safi
  • Thomas J. Hayden
Original Article


Intense competition between males for reproduction has led to the evolution of alternative mating tactics (AMTs). Feral goat males usually use a tactic called tending, in which they defend oestrous females from other males. Males may also use a second mating tactic called coursing, in which they gain access to oestrous females by disturbing a tending pair. Herein, we examine estimated mating success (EMS) and risks of using these tactics. Tending was only used by mature (≥4 years old), higher-ranking males and accounted for 75% of EMS. Coursing was used by males of all ages and dominance ranks, and accounted for 25% of EMS. Using coursing, male kids achieved 8% of EMS. Mature males achieved 92% of EMS. Both age and dominance rank were related to EMS, but age was not important after its relationship with dominance was controlled. Tending bouts were, on average, ca. 30 min long, while coursing bouts only averaged ca. 2 min. Males were more likely to suffer a butt while coursing than while tending, and formerly tending males were responsible for most butts. Kids that coursed had the highest risk of being butted. In most AMTs, there are reductions in the risks in relation to low fitness benefits. However, we found that the risks of butts during coursing were high, while our evidence suggests that the EMS was probably low. Nevertheless, the existence of an effective AMT in male feral goats may have an important influence on the intensity of sexual selection and the effective population size.


Coursing Dominance Mating strategy Mating success Tending 



We acknowledge Dúchas for permission to work in the Wicklow Mountains National Park and thank the Rangers and staff of the park for their valuable help. We thank the members of the Mammal Research Group and Department of Zoology, National University of Ireland, Dublin, and other volunteers who helped in the catching and tagging of the goats, and Noínín Reynolds for field assistance during the 1996 breeding season. We thank Marco Festa-Bianchet and two anonymous referees for their comments on the manuscript. We acknowledge the financial support of Dúchas, The Department of Education and Enterprise Ireland.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag and ISPA 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fiona C. Saunders
    • 1
  • Alan G. McElligott
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Kamran Safi
    • 2
  • Thomas J. Hayden
    • 1
  1. 1.Mammal Research Group, Department of ZoologyNational University of IrelandDublinIreland
  2. 2.Zoologisches InstitutUniversität ZürichZürichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Verhaltensbiologie, Zoologisches InstitutUniversität ZürichZürichSwitzerland

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