I am a student studying Animal Management Level 3 at college, and I have based my research project on improving the welfare of 2 common rhea that we have on site.
There is one male and one female, in an enclosure that is overgrown and has an electricity pylon in the middle that is not closed off. The only shelter that is available is a small shed (underneath the pylon) that is only about half the height of the birds, meaning that they have to lower themselves into the space, and cannot stand inside the shelter.
The animals have not been through any training, and are very inquisitive around people. The basic husbandry is supposed to be carried out by students, but I believe that the lack of training, and the aggressiveness of the male during breeding season, means that they do not receive the appropriate amount of care, as students often leave out parts of the daily tasks, such as cleaning.
The female also has a lame foot, which could be due to the wet mud at the front of the enclosure, where the birds often stand, or at least this isn't helping the situation. The rhea also get no enrichment at all, so spend their days pacing the enclosure.
I am interested in improving the enclosure, providing a training program and enrichment for the animals. It would be great to have opinions on:
What is a good setup for a large bird enclosure, regarding suitable plants, areas that should be clear, and how much of the enclosure should be planted.
Substrates that could be layered on top of the mud to improve the lameness of the female, and to make cleaning and picking up faeces easier.
Adequate fencing, as one of the rhea got its beak stuck in one of the holes in the wire fence when trying to peck a student the other side.
Whether the electricity pylon is an issue or if it would be better to move the animals to a different area all together.
If their shelter is appropriate, although they never seem to use it, could this be because it is uncomfortable to get into?
Enrichment that can be used, although I doubt the birds will be responsive because of the lack of this previously.
How to go about training the animals? I would just like to get them to the stage where they feel safe around humans, without the need for being aggressive (I know that in the breeding season the male will always try to protect the male), but I have had no experience starting a training program before.
I can base information on similar animals such as emus, as rhea are less common!