An Improvement in Enclosure Design Can Positively Impact Welfare, Reduce Aggressiveness and Stabilise Hierarchy in Captive Galapagos Giant Tortoises

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Léa Fieschi-Méric, Charlotte Ellis, Francesca Servini, Benjamin Tapley, Christopher J Michaels
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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The interest in the welfare of zoo animals, from both the public and the scientific community, has long been biased towards mammals. However, growing evidence of the complex behavioural repertoires of less charismatic animals, such as reptiles, reveals the necessity to better comply with their welfare needs in captivity. Here, we present the effects of an enclosure change towards a more natural habitat in captive Galapagos tortoises (Chelonoidis spp.) held at ZSL London Zoo. Using behavioural observations, we found that the tortoises habituated to their new enclosure in six days. This represents the first quantification of habituation latency to a new enclosure in a reptile model to our knowledge—which is important information to adapt policies governing animal moves. The tortoises expressed time budgets more similar to those of wild individuals after their transition to the new enclosure. Interestingly, the hierarchy between the individuals was inverted and more stable after this change in environment. The tortoises interacted less often, which led to a decrease in the frequency of agonistic encounters. We also found that higher ambient sound volume was associated with increased likelihood of interactions turning into fights. Taken together, our results demonstrate the potential of appropriate enclosure design to improve reptile welfare.


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