Aviary and Enclosure
Design and Construction
 
 
3.       ENCLOSURE DESIGN

Please click on thumbnail pictures to enlarge

This is an enormous subject and could go on forever.    There are so many ways in which enclosures can be built I would say that there would be as many combinations of design as there are animals in captivity.   

However, to a large extent it boils down to two essentials – what critters you intend to keep, and the environment in which you are going to keep them.

Having now covered the aviary issue, the following two parts of this diatribe will be confined to the larger types of creatures not suited to an aviary environment.   I have, therefore split the chapter into three parts, the first covering materials for a perimeter fence, the second on design of macropod enclosures and the third on wombat enclosure design.    Some of these ideas may also be admirably suited to other forms of captive creature both domestic and non domestic.  

So what follows are the basic principals taken from my own personal experiences and those of people with whom I have had close contact and as such are only suggestions and should not be taken as gospel.    Please don’t be afraid to experiment, but always ensure, whatever you do, that you have your critters’ well being uppermost in your mind.   If you cannot achieve this – don’t start.

 Perimeter Fence.

Depending on your point of view, your first (or last) line of defence is going to be your perimeter fence so I guess that is a good place to start.

There are a several types of perimeter fence to which you could give some thought.     For example there are many profiles and forms of ‘iron’ fencing material such as corrugated iron and zincalume, plus the wire types such as ‘chicken’ wire, weldmesh, cyclone mesh, straight wire, and any combination of these plus a number of others of probably less relevant significance in our situation.    All of these have their place and once again it will depend on the creatures you are intending to contain.    

The perimeter fence of my first “roo” yard was built using a combination of different types of chicken wire, straight wires and an electrified addition of three ‘hot’ wires. (See figure 1).     

Figure 1.
Perimeter fences

There are a number of basic issues to consider before you start.    Do you intend having a wire/mesh fence or do you prefer some form of solid fence?    A solid perimeter fence has quite a lot of advantages over a wire one.     It’s arguably easier to install, your animals cannot see through it; they cannot climb it; if you make it high enough they cannot or will not jump over it, (for kangaroos);  if it’s a colourbond it can look attractive; it can be used as a wind break or the back of a shelter.     On top of all this it will afford protection to the inmates from things like dogs and car headlights, both of which will spook most macropods very readily.    There are probably numerous other reasons I haven’t thought of, but it’s big disadvantage is the cost.     It would probably be the most expensive type of fence to build, with possibly the exception of the “cyclone type” meshes – which I, personally, would not use anyway; I believe it is much too much of an unforgiving material should anything run into it, but having said that, it will depend on your budget and your geographical location and maybe still be worth some consideration.     Whatever material you decide upon it will have to work hand in hand with your design and budget.   It goes without saying that before you embark on any fencing project it would be a very good idea contact your local council for advice.

 

As with aviary design you should start by making a sketch (see figure 2) of what you are looking for and then perhaps another of what you can afford and then a third of the area you have available to you.    You can then combine these to come up with, hopefully, something that is acceptable to you, your budget, and your animals; not necessarily in that order.

 

As I mentioned earlier, before you start you will need to know what you are going to put into this enclosure because it will have a strong bearing on the types of materials you will need to use.

 

Macropod Enclosures.

The design for an enclosure in which you are going to keep macropods or any of a number of other small, medium or large ‘hoppy’ things will contain a number of very basic items.   These are, watering points, feeding stations, trapping or catching devices, shade and shelter 

Figure 2
Macropod enclosure

Parcels of land available for this purpose are, more often than not, rectangular or at least will have some sharp corners. These are not desirable and need to be avoided if at all possible (see figure 2.).    Macropods tend to follow fence lines are inclined to run headlong into sharp corners, particularly when in panic mode, with potentially dire consequences.

The way round this problem is to erect a fence across the corner basically turning it into a bend.   If this is done, the animals will, hopefully, follow the bend around and keep going instead of coming to a dead stop (possibly literally).

The triangles created in the corners can be used for planting shrubbery where the animals cannot get at it.    It is a very simple idea and like all simple ideas is a very effective one.

An added bonus using this method is that if you use a large mesh wire to fence off these corners, it will allow the entry of smaller creatures such as Bettongs and Potoroos, providing them with hiding places and daytime nesting sites where the larger animals will not be able to disturb them.

Internal Paraphernalia

Even though figure 2. only shows one covered shelter it is probably a much better idea to have two or more shelters of some sort, built to accommodate whatever is going into the enclosure and  it is probably not a bad idea to include the feeding and watering stations close by or within these shelters.      These shelters need not necessarily become ‘sheds’.   They could be simply a roof with no sides at all; a lot will depend on your situation but if you feel your animals need some protection from high winds then by all means include a wall on one, two or even three sides.    I have found that my animals, the kangaroos in particular (with one notable exception), do not like going into enclosed spaces and the only shelters they would use, were the three sided ones and even then they would only stand or lay down at the entrances.    The exception is the Euros (Macropus robustus) – first sign of bad weather and they would be in or under the nearest shelter in a flash; it didn’t matter how enclosed it was.    The best design I have seen for a “roo” shelter is in the form of a cross.    This is a beautifully simple design (there’s that word again – simple is best!) that gives the occupants the choice of any compass point to get away from bad weather or conversely to enjoy the early morning sun on a winters day and shade at anytime of day.      Shade trees are also highly recommended as they also provide humidity as well as shade, but would need to be protected from being eaten or ring barked.

You should also include a system by which you can catch your animals should the need arise.    Not all your animals are going to be obliging enough to hop up to you when you need them.   For example, if you have an animal that is need of veterinary care for whatever reason, I can almost guarantee it will be that animal that won’t be around or won’t want to be handled on the day when the Vet arrives (or if you have to catch it to take it to the vet) and I can assure you that your vet would not be too impressed if she, or he, arrived to find that the animal they needed to treat was in the far corner of a five acre paddock with no means of it being caught.

There is a comparatively simple way around this embarrassing problem but ideally it needs to be set up for some time before you intend to use it so that the animals are familiar with the setup and therefore not spooked by it.       What I am saying is don’t build it today and expect to use it successfully tomorrow – you will probably be disappointed, not to say frustrated – the animals need to get used to it first.

Figure 3.
Funnel fence from wide end

Figure 4.
Funnel fence from narrow
end

What I am talking about is a fence within the enclosure that goes nowhere.    That is, a free standing fence placed at an angle to the perimeter fence or the back of a shed or some other construction within the enclosure (see figure 2, 3 and 4).    What, in fact, you are doing is setting up a funnel which in normal times is always open at both ends but it needs to have the capability of being closed off at the narrow end by, say, a gate or net.     If this is included from day one, the animals will have no fear of it and when the day comes to capture one or more of them, you can close off the mouth of the funnel (i.e. close the gate or hang the net) and then “persuade’ the animal(s) required to hop into the large end of the funnel and ‘hey presto’, problem solved.    Sounds easy doesn’t it?    Well basically it is, and it does work, but you will need two or maybe three people who know what they are doing to assist.    You’ve heard of the best laid plans of mice and men - well if something is going to go wrong NOW will be the time.     For wallabies I used a system like this but without the gate.    I used a piece of colourbond fence to hind behind (with net in hand) and when the animal hopped through the narrow opening I would scoop it up in the net.    Great theory but it’s amazing how high those little critters could jump when they felt like it.    More than once they would see the net at the last minute and leap into the air and way over the top.    I found the best way was to scoop them out of the air in mid hop – at least this way they cannot change direction unless they make contact with something.

To finish up with the design of your enclosure I’ll just run through the list of basic items that you will need to take on board. 

1.         Decide on what creatures you are going to keep.

2.         Can you afford to keep them?  Some native animals require special food requirements that can be expensive.

3.         What type of fence are you going to construct?    Are you going to go for weldmesh, hexagonal netting, cyclone type, solid materials or even natural barriers (e.g. cliffs, rivers, etc)?

4.         How big an area?    This will probably be linked to your budget.

5.         How high?     This will depend on what you are going to keep.  (e.g. Kangaroos will need a fence a minimum of 2.1m (7ft) if wire and 1.8m (6ft) if solid).

6.         Shelters?    How many and what shape?    Use your imagination.

7.         Feed stations?  How many and what type?

8.         Water stations? How many and what type?

9.         Shade? Are you going to provide shelters or use existing trees?

10.       Catching or trapping area?   A must for kangaroos and wallabies.

The previous few pages have given you some idea of what is involved with the keeping of large or small macropods and other ‘hoppy’ type marsupials but what if you are considering entering into the world of something a little more adventurous like the Koala or Wombat?

For the private keeper let’s put one thing to rest first up – forget Koala’s.    They are not for the likes of you and me.    From discussions with people who have taken on Koalas I’m told they are very time consuming to maintain, have very specific housing and feeding requirements and I strongly suggest they are best left to the “professionals”.

Wombats, however, are a different story.    Although they do need very specific housing requirements, they are not difficult to maintain and can even make delightful pets if you can find an animal with the right temperament and YOU also have to have the right temperament.    If you are going to keep one or more of these animals around the house you are going to need oodles of patience and be prepared for some major remodelling of your home (not necessarily by you).

Wombat Enclosures

The housing of Wombats needs special care and a lot of forward planning is essential if you want to keep happy, healthy animals.   Each enclosure should consist of a den in which the animals are able to sleep comfortably during the day, and a run that is strongly fenced that will allow the animal plenty of room to exercise and a place to burrow if it wishes to do so.

First and foremost, they must be protected from extremely high temperatures.     Like most marsupials, wombats do not have any sweat glands and therefore cannot get rid of excess heat through sweating and have a small fleshy tongue which is not a great deal of help when panting.    This all means that they can become heat-stressed very quickly, and sustained temperatures of over about 33oC will cause them distress if they are unable to find a cooler area.     It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to provide the animal with a den that is well insulated against high temperatures.   

They also love to dig, so some thought should be given to this aspect of their environment before any work is commenced on the building of any enclosure.    Do you allow them to dig or not?    This is entirely up to you, but I would strongly suggest that you do make provision for this aspect of their nature as an animal that is not allowed to burrow will not be a happy one!

There are two wombat species commonly kept in captivity in Australia, the Southern Hairy-nosed (Lasiorhinus latifrons) and the Common (Vombatus ursinus) and you will need to adopt a different technique for each.     Actually, there is really only one major difference between these species to be considered prior to building an enclosure.    The Common Wombat can climb and the Hairy-nosed cannot.    For example if you put a Common into an enclosure with a wire mesh fence around it, capable of keeping in the Hairy-nosed, the Common would be long gone before you could say ‘Vombatus ursinus’.    Therefore if you are keeping Common Wombats your enclosure must have an inward overhang at the top of the fence or the fence should of some solid non climbable material.    The use of an electric fence maybe another solution but I would be sceptical of its effectiveness with these animals.

If you will indulge me for a moment I would like to digress and relate a short story to illustrate the climbing ability of the Common Wombat.      

In this case the enclosure was surrounded by a 1000mm (3ft 4”) high solid corrugated iron fence, but I had made the mistake of putting the fence rails on the inside of his enclosure and he managed to stand on the bottom rail with his hind feet which gave him just enough height to be able to reach the top of the fence with his front paws and he hauled himself over and away.    We managed to trap him after he had been out for ten days and lost 4kgs in weight and extremely dehydrated.     I believe that the main reason the Common Wombat can climb and the Hairy-nosed cannot, is that the Common can make a fist and grip things with its front paws – the Hairy-nosed cannot do this; even though they can bend the claws over to meet the palm, they do not seem to have the gripping ability or dexterity of the Common.    We have noticed with our animals that when fed whole carrots the Common will actually pick it up on occasions and eat it like you and I, but the Hairy-nosed just holds it down on the floor and chews away at it in that fashion.

But back to the enclosure design.    The basics concepts here would be the same as for the macropod enclosure except that you will not need a catching device because in captivity these animals are normally inquisitive and will approach you without much encouragement.     They can then be picked up, with care (see ‘photo at the end of this chapter “The correct way to pick up a wombat with safety), and popped into a ‘pet-pack’ or some other suitable transportation equipment.    However, if you are not going to allow them to dig burrows, then it is probably a good idea to provide yourself an access door to their sleeping chamber in case you find yourself with a problem.    This however leads to problems of its own as doors complicate the building procedure and are difficult to insulate.   This issue will be discussed in more detail later.   

The size of your wombat enclosure should, obviously, be as large as is practical, but I my opinion should be, at an absolute minimum, not less than about 24 square metres in floor area per animal and more than twice this amount for two animals.     It is very difficult to put a size on an enclosure and particularly if there is more than one animal to house.    If you are intending to house two or more animals together then the enclosure really should be, maybe, three or four times the size you would use for a single animal.     (Just a note of caution here – never, never, never put two males in the same enclosure or you won’t have two for very long!)    Also, if possible, avoid having males in adjacent enclosures without either a double wire or solid fence between them (They will fight through the wire).     If you are new to wombat husbandry I would not recommend housing more than one animal per enclosure unless you are hand raising two animals at the same time and they “get along” together.   Even then, if there is any sign of aggression between them, I would advise keeping them apart, at least until you have reached the following stage.

If you are intending to keep more than one animal, and you want to put them together (which, obviously, you will have to do if you want to have any chance of breeding them) then I would suggest you build two or more enclosures next to one another with connecting doors that should be kept closed until you are ready to let the animals become acquainted.    Then keep a close eye on them for a time and be ready with some form of equipment to be able to separate them if it becomes necessary.      Placing two animals into an enclosure and leaving them to their own devices without any pre-introduction is just asking for trouble and you could end up with a very nasty shock and a huge Vet bill.   

If you have to separate two aggressive animals one way is to use a large pet pack, into which you can encourage one of them.    Generally you won’t need to give them much encouragement as the open door of the pet pack is normally enough to arouse their curiosity.     If this fails I have found the judicious placement of a flat board (for example, a piece of plywood or something similar) is useful to herd the animal towards the pet pack and at the same time protecting you own legs and ankles.   Remember these animals are extremely powerful, have enormous strength, lightening reactions (don’t be fooled by the “slow lumbery wombat” syndrome – it’s a myth) and can inflict very severe wounds that could put you in hospital.    I’m not trying to put you off because the rewards far outweigh the disadvantages, but you must always be aware that even a hand-raised, apparently very tame animal, can suddenly turn nasty without any warning.   These animals naturally bite as a means of communication and if it is an “I hate you” bite or an “I love you” bite, the results are the same!

I have sixteen wombats at the time of writing, contained in ten enclosures, all of which are built using the same basic principles.

I will go into the building method in the next chapter and for now just say that the basic principles for a wombat enclosure are;


a.           
 a well insulated den,
b
.             one or two feeding stations,
c.           
 one or two watering stations,
d.            a very strong perimeter fence (unclimbable for
common wombats), and
e.            allow them to dig if possible – (you will need to
determine this by the temperament of the animal concerned and your particular location)

So, there you have it.     The foregoing should give you some idea of what you need to do and some of the preparation required which leads us into the next chapter.

Cont’d Part 4
Back to Part 2

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