Leeds, A., Riley, A., Terry, M. et al. 2022. Out of sight, out of mind or just something in the way? Visual barriers do not reduce intraspecific agonism in an all-male group of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus). Animals 12(3), 269.
Here, we evaluated if visual barriers could reduce intraspecific agonism in an all-male group of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) living in a zoo. Crocodiles were monitored for nearly 100 h, and four “hotspots” of aggression within their exhibit were identified. Within these four locations, visual barriers were placed at the surface of the water with the goal of reducing agonism by targeting sight lines associated with their species-typical minimum exposure posture, where crocodiles submerge their body but maintain facial sensory organs above the water line. Crocodile behavior was then monitored for 226 h, evaluating both short- and long-term effects of the visual barriers. In both observation periods, intraspecific agonism was unaffected by visual barriers. However, crocodiles were more likely to be on land and closer together, after the barriers were installed, showing the barriers affected nonagonistic behaviors. Monitoring of such unintended effects is significant to ensure no welfare concerns are created in any exhibit or husbandry modification attempt. Additionally, time of day and temperature were significant predictors of behavior, highlighting the importance of such factors in the analysis of reptilian behavior. While ineffective at reducing agonism, this is the first published study evaluating exhibit design and behavior of crocodilians in zoos and aquariums. The methodologies and findings here should provide useful information for future behavioral and welfare studies of this understudied taxa.