Activity pattern and enclosure usage of black forest cobras (Naja melanoleuca) at Uganda Reptile Village (URV), Entebbe
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This study was designed to investigate how the design of enclosures affects the activity budget of the forest cobras which have a very particular habitat choice and behavioral repertoire in the wild. Data was collected at Uganda Reptile Village on five forest cobras (Naja melanoleuca) of the same species to determine the overall daily activity patterns and usage of all available areas of their enclosure. Instantaneous scan sampling of the whole group of snakes during three periods each day (morning, midday and afternoon) allowed for changes in behaviour patterns to be assessed over time. Zone usage was analyzed using a modified Spread of Participation Index (SPI) and a Chi square test was used to analyze the data. The data revealed that the subjects did not use their enclosure evenly as some areas which provided resources were used significantly more than others. Significantly enhanced behavioral repertoires occurred in the “natural” zones of the enclosure and three grouped activity patterns (intense activity, moderate activity and inactivity) showed significant differences in performance between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ zones, and between times of day. Forest cobras spent approximately 40% of their time resting, 20% basking, 5% swimming and the remaining percentage feeding, vigilance and moving. Inactivity had a higher frequency than moderate and intense activity for the entire study time. The group spent around 60% of its time in only around 30% of the enclosure. Overall, enclosure design based on facets of natural ecology is important for the expression of a “wild-type” behaviour pattern in captive reptiles. This explains why forest cobras will actively choose biologically relevant areas of their enclosure. Therefore enclosure design has a profound influence on the behavioral activity budget and enclosure use of the snakes. It is suggested that alterations to reptile regime and management style of such specialized reptiles could help improve captive behavioral repertoires and enhance the display of such animals in captive facilities. The recommendation to improve enclosures for reptiles by providing ‘natural’ like zones is suggested which will make the enclosures mimic the wild habitats to ensure proper behaviour of the reptiles in ex-situ conservation.