Behavioural Impact of Captive Management Changes in Three Species of Testudinidae

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Jessica T. Turner, Alexandra L. Whittaker, David McLelland
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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Reptile behaviour and welfare are understudied in comparison with mammals. In this study, behavioural data on three species (Astrochelys radiata, Stigmochelys pardalis, Aldabrachelys gigantea) of tortoises were recorded before and after an environmental change which was anticipated to be positive in nature. The environmental changes differed for each population, but included a substantial increase in enclosure size, the addition of substrate material, and a change in handling procedure. A tortoise-specific ethogram was created to standardise data collection. Focal behaviour sampling was used to collect behavioural data. Changes in the duration of performance of co-occupant interaction and object interaction in the leopard (Stigmochelys pardalis) and Aldabra (Aldabrachelys gigantea) tortoises were observed following the environmental changes. The Shannon–Weiner diversity index did not yield a significant increase after the changes but had a numerical increase which was relatively greater for the leopard tortoise group, which had experienced the greatest environmental change. The leopard tortoises also demonstrated changes in a greater number of behaviours compared to the other species, and this was sustained over the study period. However, this included a behaviour indicative of negative affect: aggression. Whilst we are unable to conclude that welfare was improved by the management changes, there are suggestions that behavioural diversity increased, and some promotion of positive social behaviours occurred.


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