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Assessment of objective Welfare indicators for Amphibians and Reptiles in a captive Environment (AWARE)

The primary objective of this project is to contribute to the development of criteria for adequate housing and to develop simple and non-invasive methods to measure stress in of reptiles and amphibians in captivity. The FPS provides funding for the first two years of a PhD position and CRC co-funding will cover the last two years. In this study we aim to compare the stress response of reptiles and amphibians that are kept in captivity under different treatment conditions or levels of manipulation. To establish minimum requirements for housing captive amphibians and reptiles we aim to quantify the effects of terrarium dimensions, the presence or absence of enriching elements like bathing and climbing structures, and the frequency of manipulation of the animals. Stress will be measured by assessing faecal corticosterone metabolites levels, but also by appraising a range of other potential indicators. We thus hope to establish objective criteria for estimating stress in captive and wild amphibians and reptiles. The primary questions will be whether we can reliably measure stress in reptiles and amphibians by determining hormone levels in faecal pellets and urine, by assessing leukocyte distributions in blood smears, by measuring integument colour, and from behavioural observations and body condition indices. In addition, we will compare the basic stress level and response to acute stress between animals living in natural conditions and in captivity, and between captive-bred and wild-caught individuals born in captivity. Finally, we aim to make an overview of the numbers of reptiles and amphibians that are held in Belgium as ornamental animals, companion animals, laboratory animals and wild animals in zoos by means of surveys and site visits. Partners: Raoul Van Damme, University of Antwerp |Hilde Vervaecke, Adinda Sannen, University College St. Lieven
Date:1 Dec 2013 →  1 Mar 2019
Project type:PhD project