Autumn, the mating season

Towards the end of July the stags leave the forest where they have been hiding while their antlers grew back. The strongest stags mark young trees by rubbing violently against them. This peels off the velvet covering and also sharpens the tips of their new finery. The warriors are then ready for their amorous jousting. The young males, intrigued by the activities of their elders, group into herds. They copy the jousting of the adults. During this time, female herds roam the Reserve, pretending to ignore the preparations of their future suitors.

When the hottest days of summer are coming to an end the first thunder storms arrive. The rain makes the pastures green once again. The female bison start to become restless. The mating season will soon begin. From mid-August the young females, along with those not still nursing their young, come into season.

The mating ballet begins ….

The male bison notices straight away the change in behaviour of the females. He now needs to check the exact hormonal state of his “beloved”.

For this, he has a foolproof detection organ: the Jacobson's organ which is situated at the back of the palate. This is why he often smells the genital region of the female and just like a wine taster, he sucks into his mouth the pheromones she gives off. This excites him. When he thinks the time is right for impregnation he devotes his entire time to the female and follows her everywhere, often for several days, until the time when his loved one gives in to his advances.

In September sexual effervescence increases on the Reserve and reaches its peak at the beginning of October with the stag rut. The rutting males bellow out a roar, beginning at the end of the afternoon and continuing until the following morning. This goes on for days. These challenging roars between the males echo off the mountain and put all the wildlife on edge.

The roe deer and wild horses wisely move away and find somewhere quieter, while the wild boar make wide detours to avoid the rutting areas. Only the bison continue their lovemaking unperturbed.

Sometimes an inattentive male or curious female approaches a little too closely the females courted by the stags. He will charge immediately and a tragic end awaits a careless intruder struck in the stomach.

The fighting between the stags is dramatic but rarely fatal. The opponents first challenge each vocally and then antler to antler.

They push each other with their antlers until the weakest backs down. A female is not worth dying for, although the females themselves do not hesitate to be unfaithful to the winner with the defeated opponent!

... and the suitors are fulfilled.

The observations carried out on the Reserve by scientists and our visitors confirm the polyandry of the female deer and bison. They allow themselves to be served by several males during the mating season. This behaviour is in the interests of the females as it increases their chances of gestation. What if the most attractive male was sterile! This libertine attitude of the females also benefits the herd because the higher the number of fathers, the higher the genetic variation.

Text : Patrice Longour – Photos : Baptiste Vivinus

with colaboration of :
zooConseil général des Alpes-MaritimesPrefecture des Alpes Maritime