This section briefly outlines the basic procedures and husbandry of
reptiles for wildlife volunteers likely to encounter them. This is
by no means a complete guide to reptile care, but should enable the
novice to adequately care for sick or injured reptiles on a short
term basis. More detailed texts on reptile care, diseases and
treatment are listed at the end.
Correct identification is the most important
step to take when presented with a sick or injured reptile. This is
particularly important with snakes because a large proportion of our
snakes are venomous, and some of them are the deadliest in the
world. If you do not have the means, ability or the confidence to
correctly identify a snake presented to you, then you should regard
it as potentially dangerous and refer it to someone who does.
Accurate identification of lizards and turtles is perhaps less
critical, but you should be able to identify them into their general
groups, so that you know how and what to feed them.
There are a few good reptile identification books available in most
Handling of Reptiles
Reptiles, like other animals should be handed gently and
confidently. Only use the amount of restraint necessary to enable
you to efficiently accomplish your task - don’t over restrain – it
is stressful to the animal.
Only experienced people who can correctly identify and handle snakes
should attempt the following:
Non-venomous snakes can be picked up by the tail close to the vent,
for short periods of time; or mid-body. If holding for longer
periods of time, support the body with both hands. Some non-venomous
species will bite, especially pythons, and may need to have the head
restrained whilst being examined or treated.
The thumb and middle finger should hold the neck just behind the
angle of the jaw, with the index finger on top of the head. The less
dangerous elapid snakes can be handled in a similar way, however
all, except the most harmless of them should be handled only by
experienced reptile handlers.
Skinks can drop their tails if they feel threatened,(, so don’t
handle them by their tails - support their body in your hand, with a
thumb and/or index finger around their neck to prevent them from
Dragons can be restrained by the tail with one hand and supported
under the thorax and abdomen with the other, water dragons can bite
(hard) always keep your fingers away from their mouth.
Monitors should only be handled by people that are confident and
experienced in restraining them, they are extremely strong and quick
- hold only forelegs against the thorax with one hand, and the hind
legs against the base of the tail with the other. Monitors have very
sharp and dirty teeth and can inflict savage wounds when they bite,
they also have very sharp claws, which is why you must restrain all
Are relatively easy to handle - larger specimens can be gripped with
both hands on the edge of the carapace (the top shell). Turtles can
bite, and have sharp claws; they can also spray a nasty odour when
they feel threatened.
Snakes and lizards can be adequately housed in heat boxes of various
designs. The basic requirements are that they be secure, that they
have a source of heat and be reasonably ventilated. A simple wooden
box with a top or front opening door and a Perspex or glass side
(or door), will serve adequately. Heat can be provided by heating
pads or incandescent bulbs, which should be guarded to prevent
snakes from coiling around them. The floor of the box should be
covered with newspaper for ease of cleaning and a hide box for
Turtles are best housed in aqua-terraria which can provide water
deep enough to allow complete submersion and an area of dry land
preferably with a heat source, and large enough to allow complete
drying out. Ideal water temperature is 25c, which if necessary can
be maintained with an aquarium heater, and if possible test and
maintain the pH of the water at 7. Some turtles that come into care
are not allowed full access to water whilst recovering from
injuries, check with your vet before allowing them to swim.
Heat and Humidity:
The temperature within heat boxes will vary greatly depending upon
the species being housed. It is imperative that when housing
reptiles, that you know what their “preferred body temperature (PBT)”
is. A range within their PBT should be provided, by placing the heat
source at one end of the box. Reptiles should also have access to UV
light either naturally or by an artificial source such as a black
light. UV lights have a short lifespan and need to be changed on a
regular basis in order to provide adequate UV light. If you are
unable to provide UV light, the reptile will need at least 30
minutes of natural sunlight each day.
Humidity is dependent on ambient humidity, temperature and surface
area of water bowls in the box. Water bowls with a large surface
area will cause high humidity within the box, those with a small
surface area - less humidity. Some of the arid region reptiles can
be a bit susceptible to respiratory problems in high humidity, so
water bowls should be appropriate size, or only placed in the
enclosure 2-3 times a week.
Turtles can safely be transported in cardboard boxes, whilst the
most convenient mode of transport for lizards and snakes is in a
pillow case that can be tied off, to prevent escape.
Injuries, Diseases and Conditions Commonly Seen in Wild
Listed below are some diseases or conditions you may encounter.
Trauma is the most common reason for presentation of wild reptiles.
Most reptiles that present as a result of road trauma have a poor
prognosis. They can often have no apparent injuries but may be
fatally wounded; immediate veterinary attention should be sought. .
Turtles that are victims of road trauma, in most cases have single
or multiple fractures of the carapace. All shell fractures, except
for chips around the border, should be repaired by a specialised
wildlife veterinarian. Even quite bad fractures to the carapace
and/or plastron carry a reasonable prognosis if treated by a
veterinarian promptly. Severe multiple fractures of the carapace and
plastron with exposure of internal organs and possible internal
crushing, carry a poor prognosis and these tortoises should be
Turtles are often presented with fishing hooks in their mouths or
lodged further down. Unless you are easily able to visualize the
hook and the wound is minor you should not attempt to remove the
hook, consult a veterinarian.
Any reptile that is attacked or suspected of
being attacked by a domestic animal needs immediate veterinary
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