A large number of laboratory and field based studies are being carried out on mole-rats, both in our research group
and others. Several studies have highlighted the development of adverse behaviours in laboratory animals and have
emphasised the importance of enrichment for captive animals. Hence we were interested in evaluating how
laboratory housing would affect behavioural performance in mole-rats. We investigated exploratory behaviour, the
ability to discriminate between novel and familiar environments and reference memory in the solitary Cape mole-rat
(Georychus capensis). Our data showed that both wild and captive animals readily explore open spaces and tunnels.
Wild animals were however more active than their captive counterparts. In the Y maze two trial discrimination task,
wild animals failed to discriminate between novel and familiar environments, while laboratory housed mole-rats
showed preferential spatial discrimination in terms of the length of time spent in the novel arm. The performance of
the laboratory and wild animals were similar when tested for reference memory in the Y maze, both groups showed a
significant improvement compared to the first day, from the 3rd day onwards. Wild animals made more mistakes
whereas laboratory animals were slower in completing the task. The difference in performance between wild and
laboratory animals in the Y-maze may be as a result of the lower activity of the laboratory animals. Laboratory
maintained Cape mole-rats show classic behaviours resulting from a lack of stimulation such as reduced activity and
increased aggression. However, they do display an improved novelty discrimination compared to the wild animals.
Slower locomotion rate of the laboratory animals may increase the integration time of stimuli, hence result in a more
thorough inspection of the surroundings. Unlike the captive animals, wild animals show flexibility in their responses to
unpredictable events, which is an important requirement under natural living conditions.