BBEVS - Behavioural Enrichment

Reptile enrichment aims to enhance the quality of life of captive animals. Providing varied, challenging and stimulating environments will improve the mental and physical well-being of pet reptiles, which in turn should assist in preventing or reducing abnormal behaviours often associated with captivity.

One of the most important things when it comes to reptile care is providing them with an appropriate environment. We need to ensure they have appropriate temperature gradients, access to UV light and appropriate nutrition. Requirements vary depending on species. Although providing them with all of these things will assist in maintaining your pet’s physical health, mental enrichment is sometimes lacking. Suitable enrichment ideas can be acquired by researching the behaviour of your species of wild reptile and mimicking or adapting these for pets in a captive environment.

Enrichment for reptiles revolves around giving your pet opportunities to make choices over their environment, exploration and interactions with us. This is also often referred to as empowerment.

Environmental empowerment revolves around heating and lighting, their positions within the enclosure, as well as opportunities to bathe depending on the species. One of the easiest ways to offer this kind of empowerment is to have multiple areas in which the animal can hide/perch within the enclosure that have different levels of light, heat and humidity. Having these temperature and lighting gradients gives your pet the opportunity to choose how hot or cool they want to be, and how much light they want to be receiving as well as how visible they want to be.

These balls can also be used for snakes and other pets to explore!
Fill these objects with desirable, high-value treats and present to pets. The object is to encourage them to open, chew and destroy these foraging toys in order to get to the treats inside. Inexperienced pets should be introduced to these foraging opportunities slowly.

Eventually these toys can be made more complicated and challenging in order to keep them entertained for longer. Rotating these toys in and out of the enclosure will also provide the animal with an enriching environment as they get to explore new objects. However, this will depend on the individual animal on how accepting they are of change. For reptiles that haven’t experienced many changes in their life, it is beneficial to start with small changes over long periods of times and observe your reptiles reaction, and gradually increase enrichment opportunities as they get more accepting of changes.

For other species providing opportunities to climb and explore can be a great enrichment opportunity, as well as provide exercise to maintain good muscle tone. An easy way to do this is to modify things you already own, such as a clothes rack as shown.
Animals that enjoy climbing can also be provided with opportunities to climb safely outside (small trees or bushes – always supervised), or have more opportunities to climb within their enclosure.

Offering tactile stimulation i.e. different sensations like shredded paper, fluffy toys, etc can also be very enriching for animals. These can be offered inside of their enclosures, or can be provided outside of the enclosure, for example, a plastic box filled with different random objects for your reptile to explore.

Other opportunities to offer enrichment can involve visual stimulation, such as changing up what the reptile can look at, as well as providing “scent trails” to find food.

The most important part of enrichment, however, is allowing the animal to have choice and accepting these choices. If your individual pet can be trained to come out of the enclosure for exploration time, it’s important to accept the times the animal does not want to come out. It’s also important to keenly observe your pet to see what they like, what interests them as individuals, and what you can change to make their lives more enriching.

Enrichment is an exceptionally important aspect when it comes to owning reptiles. Reptile owners can ensure their pets are living a fulfilling and enjoyable life by incorporating a quality and varied enrichment regime.

Children’s python exploring a paper roll

For more enrichment ideas