Komodo dragon at Chester Zoo

Can environmental enrichment increase activity levels in reptiles?

This project evaluated the effectiveness of environmental enrichment in 5 species of reptile; Komodo dragon, emerald tree monitor, Salvadori's monitor, golden coin turtle and Vietnamese pond turtle.

A number of scent and food based enrichments were introduced to each species and the subsequent behaviours observed. In most species, activity levels increased during enrichment periods and gradually decreased over the course of the day.

As some enrichment methods were more effective than others at boosting active behaviours, further research could help identify the best enrichment for each species.

Project detail

Environmental enrichment can help zoo animals display more natural behaviours by providing more mental and physical stimulation. By discovering the most effective enrichment methods, we can provide our animals with better husbandry and welfare. 

We evaluated the impact of various food and scent based enrichments on the activity levels of two species of aquatic turtle (golden coin turtles and Vietnamese pond turtles) and three species of lizard (Komodo dragon, emerald tree monitor and Salvadori's monitor). 

We recorded how the animals responded to enrichments such as scent trails, animal furnishings, hanging and terrestrial feeders, scatter feeds and floating rafts. Observations revealed that activity levels increased in most of the species during the enrichment period but decreased throughout the day. 

Though this was the case with four of the species, the activity levels of the Salvador monitor increased up to two hours later, suggesting that different environmental enrichments have various impacts. 

Overall, the enrichment evaluated at Chester Zoo helped to increase the activity levels of the reptiles studied but further research could help to understand which methods are best suited to specific species to maximise animal welfare.

Project team

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Key Facts

Activity levels increase during enrichment in lizards and turtles
Activity levels decrease over time following enrichment
Different environmental enrichments have various impacts on activity levels

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