iHerp Australia Issue 6 - Page 48

What makes the whole process of understanding reptile welfare and wellbeing even more messy is there are no perfect methods to measure these concepts. The most common way welfare is measured is through observation of abnormal repetitive behaviours (ARB; also referred to as stereotypic behaviours). This focuses on how often the animal repeats an extended behaviour that has no achievable goal or function. Similarly, welfare has also been measured in terms of the number of attempts to interact with transparent boundaries (ITB) such as nclosure walls. Classic reptile examples of ITB include blue-tongues (Tiliqua spp.) repeatedly attempting to climb the edge of an enclosure; water dragons (Intellagama lesueurii) running the wall of an enclosure and rubbing their noses until they get oozing abrasions; or snakes kept in tubs continually probing the walls of their enclosures. These two metrics serve as an interest- ing counterpoint to what I believe are the two most commonly used measures of ‘success’ and ‘wellbeing’ in the hobby, being reproductive output (large clutch size and large egg mass per clutch) and weight of animals. In the following paragraphs I’m going to discuss some taxa-specific studies for lizards, snakes and turtles. It is important to realise is that scientists are constrained by time, effort and money. As a result, a lot of broader concepts are investigated through a single species as a model organism. Even though each of the following examples is focused on a single species (and is addition- ally constrained by the limited number of animals tested) it doesn’t necessarily follow that the results are restricted to that species. Conversely, it doesn’t mean the results are true of all reptiles of that group. Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius) and five types of enrichment. Bashaw, M. J., Gibson, M. D., Schowe, D. M. & Kucher, A. S. (2016). Does enrichment improve reptile welfare? Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) respond to five types of environmental enrichment. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 184, 150-160. Bashaw et al. used a group of captive-bred Leopard Geckos to investigate the welfare benefits of enriching captive environments through five different types of stimuli: feeding, thermal, olfac tory, object and visual. Feeding stimuli involved offering the geckos crickets through two different puzzle feeders, one being commer- cially available and the other home-made from PVC pipe. Thermal stimuli were offered through two different bask- ing perches; a branch and a wooden bridge decoration. Olfactory stimuli consisted of two different scented blocks impregnated with snake scent and mint respec- tively. Object treatment entailed animals being provided with two different dog toys to interact with; a ball and a rolling cylinder. Lastly, the visual component involved supplying animals with a mirror so that they had access to their reflection. Unsurprisingly, the animals were found to interact with all the stimuli at levels that statistically speaking were not random (meaning the lizards were choosing to interact with the stimuli). The feeding, thermal, olfactory and object treatments were all found to change the specific behaviours of the geckos and greatly increase the diversity of behaviours they displayed. This suggests a corresponding improvement in the animals’ welfare. Furthermore, animals that were stimulated also spent a greater amount of time perform- ing exploratory behaviours throughout the cage. Changing the behaviours of rat snakes through simple environmental enrichment. Almli, L. M. & Burghardt, G. M. (2006). Environmental enrichment alters the behavioral profile of ratsnakes (Elaphe). Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 9 (2), 85-109. This study investigated how snake behaviour changes in an enriched environment as compared to ‘standard’ housing. Animals housed in standard conditions were maintained in small enclosures with a single hide, a brick and paper substrate. Enriched animals were housed in the same size enclosure, but were given aspen bedding, a moist hide and a climb- ing log with a hide of sorts on top. There were also two different feeding regimes; standard animals were fed dead prey while enriched were fed live prey items. As a brief sidenote, live feeding vertebrate prey is an entirely different ethical ballpark and careful consideration should be used in determining if it is required for your situation, which in most circumstances it isn’t.