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Keywords:

  • enrichment;
  • sea turtles;
  • reptiles;
  • stress;
  • captivity;
  • special needs

Abstract

Although behavioral studies have been conducted at zoos and aquaria for years, documentation concerning the effectiveness of environmental enrichment has dealt primarily with terrestrial animals and marine mammals. Few enrichment studies have been conducted on reptiles. For this study, behavioral observations were made on four captive sea turtles (three loggerhead, Caretta caretta, and one blind green, Chelonia mydas) with enrichment present and absent. Enrichment devices were modified for the special needs of the blind turtle. Behaviors were classified as Resting, Pattern Swimming, Random Swimming, Focused Behavior, Aggression, Hiding, Orientation, and Noncategorized Behavior. It was hypothesized that, when enrichment was present, a decrease in Resting and stereotypic Pattern Swimming would be seen along with an increase in Random Swimming and Focused Behavior. It was found that, when no enrichment devices were present, 77% of the turtles' time was spent in Resting and Pattern Swimming. When enrichment devices were provided, 88% of their time was spent in Random Swimming and Focused Behavior with only 8% spent in Pattern Swimming and Resting. Statistically, there were significant increases in Random Swimming (three of the four turtles) and Focused Behavior (4/4) and significant decreases in Resting (3/4) and Pattern Swimming (3/4) when enrichment devices were present. These results suggest that environmental enrichment is as effective with marine reptiles as has been found with other animals and should be encouraged for all captive sea turtles. Zoo Biol 26:407–416, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.