Important ethological and other considerations of the study and maintenance of reptiles in captivity
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 27, (1990) 363-366
Many biologists are privately supportive of good animal welfare for purely ethical reasons while others have straightforward, sincere commitments within husbandry programmes. However, in my experience in herpetology, very few, even of the most humane-minded people, are prepared to openly state their concerns for "humane ethics" or criticise their colleagues for insufficient considerations towards the welfare of the animals in their care and during research projects. A major reason for this appears to be that the majority of scientists seem to make great efforts to avoid being associated with "animal welfarists" or to become open to allegations of being somehow "scientifically soft." However, awareness of actual and potential stress and distress among animals in whatever situation should not be regarded as subjective but as a sound scientific base for the study of animals. Whether an observer maintains a high personal respect for the well-being of the individual animal or holds basic concepts of animals as experimental "models", it should be more widely recognised that there is typically a scientific necessity to have animals at ease with their environments if studies are to remain objective.
The maintenance of animals in captivity is a subject which cannot be addressed casually, as in addition to a researcher's own particular knowledge of a subject, the issue effectively comprises two areas - the natural history of the species concerned and the management of artificial environments - both of which are greatly dissimilar from each other and require specific understanding. A few basic examples of the importance of animal welfare in studies may offer assistance in understanding several principles for research.
The need for "reliable" base-line conditions when compiling data is generally recognised; for example bacteriological samples could not be adequately assessed if the material was poorly maintained and processed under unhygienic surroundings, as results of studies would clearly be dubious. However, such meticulous attention is less rigorously applied to many biological studies and is almost absent from others.
Examination of animal behaviours can only be inconclusive in a captive situation which is not "natural history friendly" for the species contained, especially as ethological manifestations may be as the result of maladaption or non-adaption to captivity (Warwick, 1987, 1989, 1990). From a biochemical perspective, although animals may be examined in the field and show measurable changes as a result of capture for example, it is not uncommon for such disturbance to rapidly balance following the specimens' release (L.J. Guillette, personal communication, 1989). However, medium-term trauma relating to captivity and improper maintenance has been demonstrated to cause hormonal and other biochemical imbalances which consequently disrupt research data (Mahmoud et al., 1989). Similarly, stressors may affect nutritional uptake, hinder recovery from disease, or aggravate or cause disease (Murphy, 1973; Cowan, 1980; Warwick, 1989, 1990).
Studies which address ethological, biochemical and pathological subjects are greatly susceptible to interference from even short-term EIT and other stressors. Numerous anatomical and physiological studies are more resilient to interference from "unnatural" environments as, particularly short-term, captive specimens are not usually subject to rapid changes in morphology as a result of unease with their environment. In the medium- and long-term, however, ethological (maladaption), biochemical and pathological problems may also affect anatomical and physiological studies.
Cowan, D.F. 1980. Adaption, maladaption and disease. In: J.B. Murphy and J.T. Collins (Editors), Reproductive Biology and Diseases of Captive Reptiles. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Contributions to Herpetology, No. 1, pp. 191-196.
Mahmoud, l.Y., Guillette, Jr., L.J., McAsey, ME. and Cady, C., 1989. Stress-induced changes in serum testosterone estradiol-l 7 ß and progesterone in the turtle Chelydra serpentina. Comp. Biochem. Physiol., 93: 423-427.
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