A new study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour concluded that snakes should not be confined to enclosures that prevent them from fully stretching their bodies. The research, conducted at eight UK zoos, showed that 37% of snakes adopt straight or near-straight posture while observed over a period of 60 minutes. Elaine Toland, biologist and director of the Animal Protection Agency, commented that snakes need to fully stretch their bodies for their well-being just like any other animals.
The researchers’ findings provided additional evidence contradicting the common beliefs of folklore husbandry. It also casted further doubt on an already highly disputed move by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to withdraw a proposal stipulating that snakes caged in pet shops should be able to fully stretch their bodies. Leading veterinary surgeons, biologists and animal welfare organisations criticized the move of DEFRA and called for the rule to be re-installed. Although previous research clearly reported the need for spatial considerations for snakes in captivity and included recommendations in the draft guidelines a year ago, it was reportedly pulled out following a complaint made by a veterinary clinic associated with the pet trade.
PR: A much-awaited scientific article on snake welfare concludes that snakes should not be confined to enclosures less than their length because such conditions cause greater suffering https://t.co/O9XEnOesMv #exoticpettrade #animalwelfare @shakirafree @PeterEgan6 @Act4AnimalsEU pic.twitter.com/J84JwQa1B1
— AnimalProtectnAgency (@apawild) January 16, 2019
“Despite there being no formal requirement to favour business over animal welfare in this context, DEFRA’s so-called ‘Animal Welfare’ division seems to be trying to swindle snakes out of the space they need – just to keep the pet industry happy,” said Elaine Toland adding that snakes are generally misunderstood, mis-sold and mistreated by the pet industry. For example, snakes are commonly kept by breeders and hobbyists in minimalistic ‘racks’ (plastic drawers) with keepers stating that if they eat and breed well, they must be “thriving”.
Captive environments for snakes, mostly in the commercial, hobby, and pet sectors, include small vivaria and racking systems meaning that snakes may be the only vertebrates in captivity for which there aren’t clear requirements to allow to freely extend their bodies to its natural full length. Behavioural characteristics of snakes show that confinement to small spaces causes great amounts of stress. The most important implication of the study that involves over 100 previous publications on the topic is the need to re-assess criteria for captive snakes’ welfare in order to pervade common beliefs towards recognizing the greater spatial needs of these animals.
Clifford Warwick, reptile biologist and lead author of the study says that other than for short-term confinement for clinical or transportation purposes, spatial deprivations routinely imposed on snakes are absolutely unacceptable. Larger racking systems will represent a significant inconvenience for many snake breeders and keepers commented Warwick, adding that caged snakes have literally had almost no room to move, for decades. “There is no room for such abuse anymore”, he concludes.
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