Evaluating Environmental Enrichment Methods in Three Zoo-Housed Varanidae Lizard Species

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
James O Waterman, Rachel McNally, Daniel Harrold, Matthew Cook, Gerardo Garcia, Andrea L Fidgett, Lisa Holmes
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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Environmental enrichment has been shown to enhance the behavioural repertoire and reduce the occurrence of abnormal behaviours, particularly in zoo-housed mammals. However, evidence of its effectiveness in reptiles is lacking. Previously, it was believed that reptiles lacked the cognitive sophistication to benefit from enrichment provision, but studies have demonstrated instances of improved longevity, physical condition and problem-solving behaviour as a result of enhancing husbandry routines. In this study, we evaluate the effectiveness of food- and scent-based enrichment for three varanid species (Komodo dragon, emerald tree monitor lizard and crocodile monitor). Scent piles, scent trails and hanging feeders resulted in a significant increase in exploratory behaviour, with engagement diminishing ≤330 min post provision. The provision of food- versus scent-based enrichment did not result in differences in enrichment engagement across the three species, suggesting that scent is just as effective in increasing natural behaviours. Enhancing the environment in which zoo animals reside is important for their health and wellbeing and also provides visitors with the opportunity to observe naturalistic behaviours. For little known and understudied species such as varanids, evidence of successful (and even unsuccessful) husbandry and management practice is vital for advancing best practice in the zoo industry.


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