All turtles should be allowed to express natural behaviours. Behaviour refers to the way that an animal acts. An important type of behaviour that an animal expresses are those that are instinctive (what they would typically do in the wild). Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal's own kind, encourages the expression of natural behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your turtle receives the exercise and enrichment they need to express their natural behaviours.
Despite their slow pace, turtles still require a lot of exercise and will not be content if they do not have enough room to do so. Having adequate water and land space for them to swim in, explore, and express their normal behaviour is essential. Turtles are active and curious animals so they need to be able to move around and explore.
For female turtles, laying eggs can be a natural behaviour. Not only will they need the proper environment to do so, but they will also need an experienced turtle guardian to help with this process. It’s important to consult your reptile veterinarian in this case.
Hibernating can be another natural turtle behaviour for outdoor turtles. It is important to know if your species of turtle is one that hibernates so that you’re able to ensure they do so safely and have the appropriate enclosure to allow for this. Be sure to consult your reptile veterinarian for advice.
An enriched turtle is a happy turtle! Enrichment allows for animals to express their normal, natural behaviours. Without enrichment, your turtle will get bored, lonely and most likely stressed which can lead to illness. There are plenty of things you can do to prevent these negative emotions.
Providing the above enrichment helps mimic the turtle’s natural habitat which will keep them happy and healthy.
If you’re using plastic plants instead of live plants, use plants that are one whole structure to avoid your turtle pulling them apart.
If you have an indoor and outdoor enclosure, it’s great enrichment for your turtle to spend warm summer days in the outdoor enclosure and helps them get their UVA/UVB. However, if they’re outside, turtles will need a place where they can escape from the sun as well. Be sure to bring them in before the sun goes down and keep them inside during the chilly months so they don’t get too cold.
Whatever the enrichment is that you provide for your turtle, you must first make sure that it is safe. Some food and plants can be toxic and different environments can have hazards. If you are unsure if something is safe or not, consult your reptile veterinarian beforehand.
Plants are great enrichment for turtles! However, it’s important to know what plants are safe for your specific turtle. Always make sure you talk to your reptile veterinarian about your species of turtle and what plants they can and cannot have.