If there is one thing people don't come to zoos to see, it is flabby snakes and couch potato lizards. Melbourne Zoo has found a way to keep its reptiles buff with the creation of a water gym they think is the first in the world. The real value lies not in getting whatever snakes have instead of abs rippling, but in keeping the precious captives healthy and hopefully happy. Via: IFLScience
Bathing animals is an important part of zoo hygiene, but Melbourne Zoo realized it could also be useful for dealing with the problem that zoo life can just be too easy for many animals.
"A lot of reptiles are ambush predators," keeper Alex Mitchell told IFLScience. "If they don't have to chase their prey they become sedentary and quite prone to obesity."
The gym is actually a two-metre-long tank with an adjustable jet stream system that keeps snakes swimming towards the end – effectively like a water-based treadmill.
Starting out by trying to get snakes to swim in a bucket, Melbourne Zoo gradually upped its game to eventually produce what Mitchell described in a statement as "a temperature-controlled, filtered body of water, which allows keepers to manage water flow through the tank." The current flow is adjustable, allowing a gentle introduction. As animals get used to the idea, the current can be turned up to create a sort of watery version of a treadmill. However, Mitchell told IFLScience, "the animals don't just go against the current, sometimes they swim with it. It creates novelty," and opportunities to play. Or, as Mitchell puts it, it's "sort of like aqua-aerobics for reptiles."
Birkett said the hydro gym has been extremely successful so far and that while all snakes can swim naturally, they have to be taught gently how to do it, much like human children.
"Through gentle coaxing and training and conditioning of the animal, they learn that swimming is actually fun and that is one of the most rewarding things," he told Buzzfeed. The snakes appear to get a sense of pleasure from the exercise and Birkett believes it can strongly enrich their lives if they are able to regularly use the system
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