Reptilian welfare in a biological context

  • Clifford Paul Warwick

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


At the interface between human association with reptiles and the resultant impacts on these animals resides the issue of artificial pressures and effects on organismal coping strategies and biological outcomes - in other words, their welfare. As a platform, this thesis takes the position that welfare is a fundamental component of evolutionary biology by postulating that adaptational processes have selected biological strategies in service of individual wellbeing, because the wellbeing of the individual is important both to its fitness as well as to the success of its genetic continuity. This thesis presents an overarching hypothesis that reptiles and their wellbeing are locked-in to lifestyles under natural conditions, and that the reptilian adaptational landscape to non-natural situations is highly limited, and that these animals do not adapt or at best adapt poorly to the general conditions of captivity. Commonly reported signs concerning abnormal behaviour and behaviour-related injury, as well as clinical evidence of stress-related immunocompromise, opportunistic infection, morbidity and mortality, supports the argument that reptiles do not adapt or adapt poorly to common conditions of captivity. It is hypothesised that strong ancestral innate traits or genotypic ‘hard wiring’, ectothermic dependency, low metabolic and energetic rates, and common nocturnalism, are causally-related to the poor welfare observed in many captive reptiles. Other factors relevant to poor welfare include deficiencies and errors of provision concerning humidity, nutrition, and light. Strong ancestral innate traits and associated precosity are dominant in determining reptilian psychological and behavioural profiles for an evolved lifestyle under natural conditions. The Aims and the Study questions for this thesis, were to investigate: the scope of reptilian adaptability or nonadaptability to artificial environments - that is, whether reptiles are adaptable to captivity; and the welfare-relevant endpoints or ‘consequences’ of captivity for reptiles - that is, whether typical captive husbandry practices are consistent with reptile welfare. The thesis relates to its Aims and Study questions by outlining essential adaptational principles as well as exemplifying issues of captivity- associated stress and stressors, as well as failures of coping mechanisms and adaptive plasticity, to conclude that reptiles are not adaptable to captivity and thus the artificial conditions in which they are routinely confined; and also that typical captive husbandry practices are inconsistent with reptile welfare.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMatthew Parker (Supervisor) & Alex Ford (Supervisor)

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