Release 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 Release 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.))


  • A period of acclimatisation in an outdoor enclosure may be advisable for animals which have been in care for more than a short period. 

Release assessment/criteria:

  • Must be able to recognise, catch, manipulate, consume and digest its natural diet.
  • Must be capable of normal locomotion (movement) and have sufficient fitness for sustained activity.
  • Must have adequate sensory ability (sight, smell, hearing, touch).
  • Must be of an appropriate weight for the age, sex, and time of year for that species. 
  • Must show appropriate wariness of humans and domestic animals.
  • Must have satisfactory scales.
  • (P19.1.w10, P24.233.w11, D27)

Selecting a release site:

  • Release where found or in the nearest suitable habitat at a safe position.(B151, B199, D27)
  • The habitat must contain appropriate prey, shelter etc. as required by the species. (P24.233.w11)

Timing of release:

  • Release as soon as possible, particularly because reptiles frequently do not eat once taken into care.
  • Do not release in severe winter weather.

Type of release:

  • Hard release is generally employed for these species.
Appropriate Use (?)
  • The individual animal must, at the the time of release, be healthy, have a reasonable level of fitness and be able to fend for itself in the wild.
  • Diurnal species should be released in the morning, giving them a full day to explore and look for food and shelter before nightfall.
  • Nocturnal species should be released at night.
  • Release should preferably take place during a period of fine weather.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Released animals may be at risk of contracting disease if there is an ongoing disease problem in the wild population at the time of release.
  • The wild population may be at risk from novel pathogens (disease agents) carried by a rehabilitated animal. These pathogens may pose the greatest threat to free-ranging populations if the animal is to be released at a site distant from its original location therefore increasing the likelihood of spread of disease. It is important to remember that the casualty wild animal may have acquired disease from domestic animals, other wildlife casualties or humans whilst in captivity. 
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Knowledge of the natural history of the species concerned is required for correct decision making regarding a suitable release site.
Cost/ Availability
  • Costs of appropriate health screening.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • The potential risks to the individual being released and to the wild population into which it is being released (also to domestic animals) must be considered before release is undertaken.
  • The potential risk to humans and pets from habituated/tame individuals must be considered.
  • An offence may be committed under Section 1 of the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 if a released rehabilitated animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). 
    • This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. 
  • (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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