Prevalence of foot disorders in captive Sardinian partridges (Alectoris barbara barbara Bonnaterre, 1790) as useful indicators of fitness to natural environment
Rearing conditions might be a concern if not properly adopted to meet natural behaviour and feeding habits of wild avian fauna raised in captivity for biodiversity conservation or game restocking (Buijs, Arts, Elands, & Lengkeek, 2011; Santilli, Paci, & Bagliacca, 2014). Indeed, wild fauna represents one side of the coin of the binomial unit with the natural environment. Seasonal feed selection of edible vs. poisonous plants (Cappai, Garau, Aboling, Kamphues, & Pinna, 2013; Cappai, Wolf, Pinna, & Kamphues, 2013; Cappai, Lunesu et al., 2017; Pinna, Nieddu, Moniello, & Cappai, 2007), metabolic adaptation to climate conditions (Cappai, Arru, Manconi, Muzzeddu, & Pinna, 2017) and coping with the environment in a broad sense contribute to landscape shaping thanks to the presence of wild animals. As to domestic avian species, foot and leg health represents an indicator of animal welfare in Europe and USA (Berg & Algers, 2004; Martrenchar, Boilletot, Huonnic, & Pol, 2002). For many decades, foot pad dermatitis (FPD) has been known as a wide spread problem in poultry production (Kamphues et al., 2011; Terčič, Žolger, & Pestotnik, 2015; Youssef, Beineke, Rohn, & Kamphues, 2010). Recently, it has attracted additional attention as to survival rates and coping ability of captive birds released with natural environment after reintroduction into nature (Santilli, Galardi, & Bagliacca, 2012; Cappai, Arru, et al., 2017). Foot pad dermatitis is a type of contact dermatitis with hyperkeratosis in its early stage followed by necrosis and ulcers of the foot pads in its late stage (Ekstrand, Algers, & Svedberg, 1997; Haslam et al., 2007). The aetiology of FPD is a complex interaction of different factors (Abd El‐Wahab, Visscher, Beineke, Beyerbach, & Kamphues, 2012; Abd El‐Wahab, Visscher, Wolken, et al., 2012; Kamphues et al., 2011; Mayne, 2005; Mayne, Else, & Hocking, 2007). Some of these are related to dietary factors (Abd El‐Wahab, Visscher, Beineke, Beyerbach, & Kamphues, 2011; Abd El‐Wahab et al., 2013; Eichner et al., 2007; Jensen, Martinson, & Schumaler, 1970; Youssef, Beineke, Rohn, & Kamphues, 2011). Other factors are linked to management and housing, including flooring, litter quality and type of litter (Abd El‐Wahab, Visscher, Beineke, Beyerbach, & Kamphues, 2011; Mayne et al., 2007; Youssef et al., 2010). In addition to FPD, which is one of the most diffused technopathy for intensively raised poultry, digital ulceration (DU) appears to be related to bird behaviour and housing conditions as well (Martland, 1985). The proposed legislative changes in the European Union may force breeders to reduce the prevalence and severity of foot health problems in avian species. Some scientists actually argue that instead of attempting to “measure” animal welfare, the role of science should be primarily to identify, rectify and prevent welfare problems. Therefore, there is a high need to reduce the severity of foot disorders and hence to increase birds’ health and welfare. Against this background, breeding systems of wild avian fauna raised in captivity also translates into the management of the risk of low survival rates of birds after reintroduction into the wild (Santilli et al., 2012). The main objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that housing and feeding conditions either in cages (metal wire floor) or in aviaries (on natural ground) might affect the development of foot health problems in captive Sardinian partridges (Alectoris barbara barbara Bonnaterre, 1790. Figure 1), explored for the first time in this species, to the best of our knowledge.