Accommodation of Casualty Reptiles (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management/ Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B.  This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty Accommodation which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Coronella austriaca - Smooth snake, Natrix natrix - Grass snake, Vipera berus - Common viper, Anguis fragilis - Slow worm, Lacerta agilis - Sand lizard, Lacerta vivipara - Viviparous lizard.

These species are from the families Colubridae, Viperidae, Anguidae, Lacertidae

(Sea turtles are not commonly presented as wildlife casualties in the UK and their requirements have not been included in this module. If a live turtle requires rescue and rehabilitation, expert assistance should be sought from an organisation with appropriate expertise and facilities: Sea Life Centres, zoos (which may be contacted via the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland) and large aquaria.))

Accommodation for casualty reptiles must be escape-proof: a tight-fitting lid is important.

Transport Container:

Adder (Vipera berus - Common viper)

  • These snakes are poisonous.
  • It is important to use a container which doe not have any gaps through which the snake might escape.
  • May be transported within a plastic dustbin (V.w31, V.w32, V.w33) or a bucket with a lid (V.w32).
  • The lid should be close fitting to prevent escape and well-secured from the outside, but should not be difficult to remove or there is a risk of getting bitten while removing the lid.
    • A dustbin lid may be secured on the outside with e.g. bungee cords.
    • Bins are available about 2ft to 2ft 6 inches deep (60-75cm deep) designed with catches so that the lid locks into place when twisted but is easy to remove by turning back in the other direction.(V.w33)
    • (V.w31, V.w32, V.w33)
  • A cloth bag such as a pillowcase tied closed at the top may be used as an alternative.
    • Great care must be taken if transporting inside a cloth bag that this is handled in a manner which does not allow the snake to bite anyone through the bag, i.e. the body of the bag is not touched or held near to anyone.
    • (V.w31, V.w32)

Coronella austriaca - Smooth snake, Natrix natrix - Grass snake

  • May be transported within a plastic dustbin, a bucket with a lid, or a cloth bag such as a pillowcase tied closed at the top. (V.w31, V.w32)
  • Small plastic aquaria with a trapdoor opening and ventilation holes in the lid.(B151)
  • Remember that snakes are escapologists and will escape rapidly from any non-secure container.(V.w31)


  • Small plastic aquaria with a trapdoor opening and ventilation holes in the lid.
  • Container needs to include no gaps which might allow escape.
  • (B151)

Short term (Immediate/Emergency) Accommodation:

  • Any solid container (e.g. plastic, glass or laminated wood) with a tight-fitting lid but which provides sufficient ventilation.
  • Provide bark or a box to allow seclusion.

Adders (Vipera berus - Common viper) should be left within a secure container such as a plastic dustbin and transferred to the care of a person or organisation with appropriate experience and facilities.

Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation:

  • Plastic or glass vivarium, or a laminated wood vivarium with a glass or perspex front.
  • Lid must be escape-proof but allow sufficient ventilation through small holes.
  • Newspaper is a suitable substrate, being easy to replace for maintenance of hygienic conditions.
  • A full spectrum light including ultraviolet light should be provided (e.g. "Trulight" - Durotest Laboratories).
    • It is important to replace full spectrum light bulbs at intervals as indicated in the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • A combined thermal/light source is preferable for basking:
    • e.g. incandescent incubator bulb;
    • at a distance and/or with wire mesh shielding sufficient to prevent direct contact between the reptile and the bulb, which would risk burns;
    • at one end of the vivarium, to provide a temperature gradient between the two ends of the tank.
    • Check the temperature where the reptile will be under the light (i.e. at the correct height under the light), both with a thermometer and by checking that a hand held at the basking spot is warm but comfortable.
  • Native reptile species are normally maintained at temperatures similar to ambient outside temperatures, being maintained no higher than the low 20C's and with heat sources turned off at night to provide a "normal" night-time drop in temperature. (V.w31)
    • Provision of a temperature slightly higher than normal may be useful for casualty animals, however too high a temperature is likely to result in abnormally high activity levels. (V.w31)
  • Temperature for slow worms of 20-25C has been suggested (B151).
  • Provide a temperature gradient:
    • Reptiles have a preferred body temperature (PBT) which varies with factors such as species, age, time of year and metabolic processes (e.g. reproduction, healing).
    • Reptiles maintain their body temperature at the required level by behavioural means (behavioural thermoregulation).
  • Provide a refuge, natural if possible, under which the animal may hide.
  • Provide water, sufficient for submerging, in a shallow dish.
  • Humidity within the accommodation may be increased by spraying with a mist nozzle (e.g. plant sprayer).
  • Provide a moisture gradient.
  • Appropriate-sized rocks or logs to aid skin shedding are required.

(D28, B16.22.w22, B151, B169.48.w48, B200, J15.18.w1)

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Short-term (Immediate / Emergency) Accommodation is designed to be used for a short period of time only, e.g. prior to examination, to allow basic first-aid to be carried out, while an animal requires intensive care, or while specialist accommodation is being prepared.
    • The most important requirements are warmth, quiet and dark or dim lighting.
  • Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation is designed for the short-term care of individual animals or groups of animals, particularly during treatment and rehabilitation.
    • Hospital accommodation is commonly constructed with hygiene and easy cleaning as the main considerations, but the specific needs of the patients, including behavioural needs, should also be considered.
  • Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation facilities for wildlife are generally larger and more complex than accommodation designed only for temporary occupancy.
    • In general this type of accommodation is not suitable for animals which require daily treatment.
    • A period in rehabilitation accommodation may be particularly important when an animal has been hospitalised for some time.
  • Reptiles have a preferred body temperature (PBT) which varies with factors such as species, age, time of year and metabolic processes (e.g. reproduction, healing)
  • Reptiles maintain their body temperature at the required level by behavioural means (behavioural thermoregulation) .
  • Temperature gradient should be provided.
  • Relatively high temperature will assist healing
  • Moisture gradient should be provided.
  • In choosing or constructing accommodation for these animals it is important to consider the requirements for handling, provision of food and water, cleaning and disinfection (or disposal).
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Must be designed to prevent escape.
  • Heat mats under the tank may result in burns/overheating of burrowing species.
  • Species such as Lacertid lizards may be very restless when confined (B169.48.w48).
  • Lack of a refuge providing seclusion may result in high stress levels.
  • Ventilation must be adequate.
  • Reptiles require an adequate temperature range if they are to be able to maintain their preferred body temperature.
  • Avoid providing light/heat for too many hours per day.
  • Ultraviolet light source should be one specifically designed for reptiles.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Appropriate aquaria/vivaria are available at most good pet stores.
  • Appropriate heat, light and ultraviolet radiation bulbs are available at most good pet stores.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Construction / fitting out of short/medium term accommodation for reptiles is not difficult; however attention to detail is important in order to provide suitable environmental conditions and ensure the casualty cannot escape.
Cost/ Availability
  • Required components are readily available at good pet stores.
  • Some costs are involved but these are not excessive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Accommodation for casualty wild animals should be designed to minimise the stress on the animal and to minimise the risk of injury to that animal.
  • A wild animal in captivity is protected under the same welfare legislation as domestic animals, e.g. Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000; under this legislation it is an offence to treat a captive animal cruelly or to cause it unnecessary suffering.
    • This includes an obligation to provide proper attention and care.
    • The keeper has a duty to keep all wildlife casualties in a fit manner, in accommodation of a size which allows reasonable movement and with an environment suitable for its normal way of life.
    • (J35.147.w1, P19.2.w1, D27, D28).
  • The adder (Vipera berus - Common viper) is listed as a Category '1' (Greater Risk) (Special Venom Risk) species in the Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice (D15) and is listed in the.Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (as amended by The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) Order 1984. Under this legislation a licence is required to keep adders (Vipera berus - Common viper)(B156.21.w21).
  • Accommodation which does not fulfil the physiological and psychological requirements of the animal and results in an inadequate level of fitness at the time of release may seriously compromise the survival ability of that animal. Release of an animal which is unfit may be an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 (J35.147.w1, W5.Jan01).
  • An offence may be committed under article 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 if a species on Schedule 9 of that Act, or a species not ordinarily resident in the UK is allowed to escape from accommodation in which it is being housed.
  • Risks to human health, both physical and risk of zoonotic illness: Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 .
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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