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News Article

Study highlights spatial needs of captive snakes

Snakes need room to stretch, study concludes

An article published in Journal of Veterinary Behavior concludes that snakes should not be confined to enclosures less than the length of the animal because such conditions cause greater suffering.

The article, researched by three leading reptile experts, reviewed almost 100 publications on snake biology, welfare and caging, and also conducted research at eight zoos.

During just one hour observation periods at zoo exhibits, 37% of snakes adopted straight or near straight-line postures, confirming that when allowed enough space to stretch, they do exactly that. The authors concluded: "...snakes utilize and biologically need considerable space as part of their normal lifestyles...captive snakes may be the only vertebrates where management policy commonly involves deprivation of the essential ability and welfare need to voluntarily straighten their bodies." The authors go on to say keeping snakes in enclosures where they cannot fully stretch is unscientific and unethical and should not be tolerated.

The article blames pseudoscientific information and outdated practices among the pet trade and snake keepers for perpetuating ‘myths' surrounding ‘folklore husbandry' that keeping snakes in tiny enclosures is consistent with their welfare, stating: "Common justifications for spatially minimalistic enclosures and husbandry practices involving snakes in general are based on a number of beliefs, including that snakes are sedentary, insecure in large environments, do not use space, suffer from agoraphobia (anxiety related to open spaces) and anorexia, and further that snakes thrive in small spaces..." and points to "...typically unscientific, often anecdotal, information communicated via keeper-to-keeper, hobbyist forums and magazines, trade and amateur herpetological groups, and ‘care sheets' developed by vested interests."

The authors emphasise that whilst captive snakes in general may endure significant hardship, the ‘racking' system of Tupperware-like boxes and similar cages commonly used by snake breeders and sellers in particular impose many behavioural and physical health problems on these animals, and should not be legally tolerated.

Says Clifford Warwick, reptile biologist and lead author of the study: "The findings of this study will come as no surprise to advanced herpetologists, zoo managers, veterinarians or conscientious keepers familiar with snake biological and husbandry needs - not least given that many already practice or surpass the minimal standards that we recommend."

Says Elaine Toland, Director of the Animal Protection Agency (APA) in the UK: "The APA has long argued that snakes, like any other animals, need to fully stretch their bodies for their wellbeing.”

Read article: Spatial considerations for captive snakes by Clifford Warwick, Phillip Arena and Catrina Steedman, published in Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2019) volume 30, pp. 37-48, doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2018.12.006

Article details

  • Date
  • 18 January 2019
  • Source
  • Animal Protection Agency
  • Subject(s)
  • Zoo-, Wild-, Laboratory-, and Other Animals