Cooperative problem solving in a social carnivore
Numerous field researchers have described cooperative hunting in social carnivores, but experimental evidence of cooperative problem solving typically derives from laboratory studies of nonhuman primates. We present the first experimental evidence of cooperation in a social carnivore, the spotted hyaena, Crocuta crocuta. Eight captive hyaenas, paired in 13 combinations, coordinated their behaviour temporally and spatially to solve cooperation tasks that modelled group-hunting strategies. Unlike many primates that cooperate infrequently or require extensive shaping, spotted hyaenas displayed a natural aptitude for teamwork: all teams achieved success rapidly, repeatedly, and without specific training. Social influences on cooperative performance included an audience effect that could influence party formation and hunting success in the wild. Performance also varied across dyads, notably with rank-related aggression between partners impairing performance. Efficiency improved as partners increasingly attended to one another and coordinated their actions. Lastly, experienced cooperators modified their behaviour to accommodate a naïve companion, using visual monitoring and tracking to promote coordination. We suggest that social carnivores should be considered relevant models for the study of cooperative problem solving, as their abilities provide a comparative framework for testing theories about the mechanisms of social learning and the evolution of intelligence. © 2009 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.
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