Home is where the home range is: Identifying territoriality and exhibit preferences in an ex-situ group of all-male Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus)
Year of Publication:
|Laura Stalter, Megan Terry, Alex Riley, Austin Leeds
|Public Library of Science
|animal behavior, animal welfare, collective animal behavior, crocodiles, geographic information systems, habitat, islands, network analysis
Here, the presence or absence of territoriality was evaluated in an all-male Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) group living in an ex-situ environment. Location data for each crocodile within the exhibit were collected three times per day over a two-year period, including two warm seasons and two cold seasons. A geographic information system (GIS) was used to create seasonal home ranges and core areas for each crocodile, to quantify the overlap of these home ranges and core areas to assess potential territoriality, and to calculate exhibit preferences of the group. Core area overlap was significantly lower than home range overlap, suggesting the crocodiles established territories within their exhibit. This pattern of behavior was similar across seasons, though it moderately intensified during the cold season. The crocodiles appeared to be more territorial in water, as overlap was most concentrated on the central beach, the only feature utilized more than expected based in its availability in the exhibit. These findings highlight the behavioral complexity of Nile crocodiles in human care, specifically the ability of Nile crocodiles to adapt to ex-situ environments similar to their wild counterparts by forming territories despite spatial constraints. Identifying the presence of territorial behavior is important for the care and welfare of ex-situ animals, as territorial animals have specific requirements that may result in increased agonism when unmet. It can also provide valuable context to aid in mitigation strategies, for example, when undesirable levels of agonism do occur. The findings here provide an example of how methodology from the wildlife ecology field can be adapted to ex-situ settings using a GIS and contributes to the current understanding of crocodilian behavior in human care.