Krönke, F., Xu, L. 2023. Sensory stimulation as a means of sustained enhancement of well-being in leopard geckos, Eublepharis macularius (Eublepharidae, Squamata). Animals 13(23), 3595.

Although the private keeping of reptiles has boomed in most western countries since the millennium, studies dealing with the recognition and promotion of welfare in these reptiles seem to represent a blind spot of scientific attention. The vast majority of studies from the field of animal welfare science still concern mammals and birds. The leopard gecko is probably the most common lizard that is kept in domestic terrariums worldwide. Due to its characteristic as an ecological generalist, it is easy to keep and breed, and it is considered a good “starter reptile” for beginners as it “condones” husbandry mistakes, even for extended periods. However, being a mass species is not a second-class classification. They, too, have an equal claim to good well-being as all animals in human care. The aim of the study was to test the hypothesis of whether an increase in stimulus density leads to an increase in activity and behavioural diversity and, thus, an increase in welfare. For this purpose, 18 leopard geckos were fed insects that were ≤1 cm in size, and both the quantity and quality of behaviour was documented and analysed in the pre-intervention, intervention and post-intervention stages. In addition, it was of interest whether behavioural indicators could be identified that indicate a state of positive well-being. The results showed that this type of enrichment led to a quantitative doubling of the activity levels from the baseline (total of 12,519 behavioural elements) to the intervention (total of 25,366 behavioural elements). And even 11 months after the introduction of small insect feeding (post-intervention total of 23,267 behavioural elements), the activity level was still significantly increased. The behavioural diversity, as the absolute number of behavioural categories across all 18 leopard geckos, also increased, although less than the behavioural intensity, between the baseline (5507 behavioural categories) and intervention (6451 behavioural categories) and between the baseline and post-intervention (6079 behavioural categories). The results clearly show that feeding small insects to leopard geckos is a very efficient tool to increase the welfare of leopard geckos. Attractively, this feeding regime can be implemented by any leopard gecko keeper without significant additional cost or time, and therefore, these methods have a potentially high impact.

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