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Monogamous pairings have been regarded as the fundamental social unit in all canid species, including those living in packs. In Ethiopian wolves, however habitat saturation limits dispersal, which raises the question of whether they avoid inbreeding and, if so, by what mechanism. In two study areas Ethiopian wolf packs had stable memberships. Each pack comprised two to eight adult males, one to three adult females, including a clear- cut dominant individual of each sex, together with one to six yearlings and up to six pups (n = 9 packs). Males remained in their natal packs, apparently throughout their lives. Some females also failed to disperse while others dispersed in their second or third year and became floaters. Dominant females monopolized breeding, and were succeeded either by their most dominant daughters (three cases) or by floaters (two cases). In the former case there is potential for incest: however, 70% of 30 copulations observed were between the dominant female of one pack and a male from an adjoining pack. In Ethiopian wolves, under conditions where dispersal is constrained and the potential for inbreeding is high, extra-pack matings (and associated multiple paternity) result in outbreeding. We raise the possibility that extra-pair copulations may be widespread in canid societies and that the monogamy supposedly fundamental to the family may be more sociological than genetic.

Original publication




Journal article


Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Publication Date





331 - 340