Environmental enrichment is a strategy used to improve the welfare of captive animals.1 While enrichment techniques for mammals and birds have been studied extensively, reptilian enrichment has received less attention.2 There has been an increase in enrichment programs for reptiles in zoos; however, many are not accompanied by behavioral studies. Detailed recording of behavioral responses to enrichment is necessary to assess the efficacy of the enrichment type and to determine its utility in various settings.2 In this study, 18 snakes of varying species (Colubridae, Pythonidae) were exposed to four enrichment types (humid hide, olfactory, climbing, suspended hide). Baseline recordings were conducted prior to the introduction of enrichment. Snakes were recorded for 2 hours after introduction of each item. Five behavior types were identified based on evaluation of baseline videos: tongue flicking, climbing, hiding, glass climbing, and utilizing other items. Glass climbing was classified as a negative behavior, while the other four behaviors were classified as positive.3 An increase in climbing and tongue flicking was seen with introduction of each enrichment item. The increase in these behaviors may indicate clinical importance. A trend toward significance was seen in the reduction of glass climbing behavior after the introduction of enrichment. These results show that captive snakes respond to environmental enrichment. The reduction in negative behavior frequency may suggest increased welfare. The extent to which results can be applied to other species awaits further study, but the authors suggest that climbing and olfactory enrichment be utilized to improve snake welfare.
The authors thank the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff for their assistance with this project.
1. Almli L, Gordon B. Environmental enrichment alters the behavioral profile of ratsnakes (Elaphe). J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2006;9(2):85–109.
2. Bashaw M, Gibson M, Schowe A, Kucher S. Does enrichment improve reptile welfare? Leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) respond to five types of environmental enrichment. J Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2016;184:150–160.
3. Eagan T. Evaluation of enrichment for reptiles in zoos. J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2019;22:69–77.