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Letters to Nature
Nature 303, 59 - 61 (05 May 1983); doi:10.1038/303059a0

Induced abortion and social factors in wild horses

Joel Berger

Conservation and Research Center, Smithsonian Institution, Front Royal, Virginia 22630, USA

Much evidence now suggests that the postnatal killing of young in primates1–4 and carnivores5,6, and induced abortions in some rodents7–9, are evolved traits exerting strong selective pressures on adult male and female behaviour. Among ungulates it is perplexing that either no species have developed convergent tactics or that these behaviours are not reported, especially as ungulates have social systems similar to those of members of the above groups10,11. Only in captive horses (Equus caballus) has infant killing been reported12. It has been estimated that 40,000 wild horses live in remote areas of the Great Basin Desert of North America (US Department of Interior (Bureau of Land Management), unpublished report), where they occur in harems (females and young) defended by males13–15. Here I present evidence that, rather than killing infants directly, invading males induce abortions in females unprotected by their resident stallions and these females are then inseminated by the new males.

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