New 'Snake Maze' has tongues flicking
Werribee Open Range Zoo’s four Madagascan Dumeril’s boas have a new and novel way to keep fit and healthy: exercising in a puzzling snake maze.
The enrichment item, complete with two entrance holes, nine chambers, and plenty of dead ends to test the snakes’ problem-solving abilities, is custom-made to integrate into their habitats at the Zoo.
Werribee Open Range Zoo Natives keeper Malinda Delahant said the snake maze promotes natural behaviours to help boost the snakes’ brain activity and physical health.
“The maze was specially designed by keepers as a cognitive enrichment tool for our boas,” Ms Delahant said. “But it is also a welfare tool, helping to maintain body condition by encouraging natural exploratory behaviours.
“All four boas have responded well to the snake maze. We’ve seen a lot of tongue flicking, which shows us that the snakes are super stimulated.”
While the one-by-one metre maze was designed to be used by all resident boas, special considerations were needed to accommodate the complex needs of 21-year-old elderly female, Madda.
“Our geriatric boa, Madda, has a spinal condition,” Ms Delahant said. “So, to ensure her ongoing quality of life, we had to consider how she would engage with the maze safely. As our eldest and largest snake, we developed the tool to help maintain her muscle condition, which will enable her to better support her spine and prevent the condition from deteriorating.”
Measuring over 180 centimetres long and 25 centimetres in girth, keepers ensured the chambers and doors of the maze would be wide enough for Madda to be able to explore unconstricted.
Ms Delahant said visitors have the opportunity to see the Dumeril’s boas exploring the snake maze during a visit to the Zoo’s indoor play space, Ranger Kids.
“The snake maze is now being used in rotation with other enrichment items,” Ms Delahant said. “The sessions are also occurring on display, which means some lucky visitors could get the opportunity to witness it firsthand.”
Approximately 2600 species of snakes inhabit the world, with around 170 of those in Australia. Many of Australia’s native snake species are threatened by domestic pets, cane toads and land clearing for agriculture and urban development. Snakes help to maintain an integral balance in the food web and keep a natural control over pest populations.
Zoos Victoria members and visitors are reminded that all tickets to the zoo must be pre-booked online at zoo.org.au and all adult ticketholders (16 years and over) are required to provide proof of full vaccination and follow current Victorian Government directions at www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au.