Assessing the health of sand lizards (Lacerta agilis agilis) before release

Georgina Gerard

The sand lizard (Lacerta agilis agilis) has disappeared over much of its former range in the UK. Habitat loss and fragmentation are cited as the main factors in the species’ decline. The sand lizard and its habitat are now protected under EU law (Bern convention) and British law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010). A major component of the Species Recovery Programme for the sand lizard has been the reintroduction of sand lizards into their former range, using captive bred animals.  Releases have been taking place since 1969. This work has involved the British Herpetological Society (BHS), Natural England (NE) and the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC).  DRAHS has contributed through a disease risk analysis (DRA) to assess the risk from disease in sand lizard translocations and a disease risk management (DRM) protocol. DRAHS continues to undertake pre-release health assessments on animals intended for release into the wild and post-release health surveillance (PRHS) by undertaking post-mortem examinations on sand lizards found dead.

Picture of sand lizard
Photography for identification during health examination of a juvenile sand lizard.

In September 2020 the DRAHS team travelled to Lancashire and to Dorset to carry out health examinations on cohorts of juvenile sand lizards reared for release. Full personal and protective equipment was worn by both vets and biologists to ensure there was no transfer of infectious agents between personnel and the lizards. Careful handling of the lizards was necessary in order to minimise stress and to avoid tail autotomy. Photographs were taken of each animal to aid individual identification. Assessment involved examination of the eyes, ears, oral cavity and skin for lesions. A body weight measurement was taken and an overall assessment of body condition was made. A doppler ultrasound probe was used to assess the cardiovascular system including the hear.  The lungs were auscultated (listened to) through a stethoscope and a respiratory rate was calculated. Gentle coelomic palpation was carried out to ensure there were no masses. Faeces were collected both from individual lizards and from groups for parasitology testing, specifically for the protozoa Entamoeba spp and for Strongyloides spp helminths both of which can cause gastrointestinal disease in lizards.

In Lancashire 41 sand lizards were examined and in Dorset a sample of 25 sand lizards from a total cohort of 50 were assessed. Observations included seven individuals which were shedding skin normally and one individual with a pinpoint oral lesion which was swabbed and found to be free of pathogenic bacteria. Two animals were found to have truncated tails without inflammation or infection - likely as a result of altercations between dominant individuals. One lizard from each cohort was retained for further close monitoring for 72 hours to ensure feeding behaviour and activity levels were normal. All sand lizards were eventually deemed fit for release and successfully translocated to the wild!

Picture of sand lizard
Examination of the heart of a sand lizard with a doppler probe in Dorset pre-release.

Select a blog

Careers at ZSL

Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.

Nature at the heart of global decision making

At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions. 

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!


We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.


From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.


A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.

Artefact of the month

Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.

Wild About

Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.

Asia Conservation Programme

ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.