Daily healthcare scaled up for elderly lizard

15 March 2022

A geriatric Shingleback lizard at Werribee Open Range Zoo is taking steps to manage her own health.

The 23-year-old reptile, named Stumpy, has learnt to voluntarily climb aboard a custom-built station, which allows keepers and veterinarians to administer care.  

Zookeeper Malinda Delahant said Stumpy requires regular treatment to manage health conditions associated with ageing. 

“One of the scales on Stumpy’s back is deteriorating,” Ms Delahant said. “To make sure the scale doesn’t cause her any discomfort, we need to clean the site and keep it nice and moist. Stumpy also has a degenerative eye condition which requires daily eye drops.” 

The new behaviour and training station has the additional benefit of assisting keepers to regularly monitor Stumpy’s weight and any changes to her eating habits. It also mitigates the need for physical handling, empowering Stumpy to be in control of her healthcare by providing her with the choice to participate.  

Ms Delahant said finding the right reinforcer was critical to positive and successful training.  

“Training sessions need to be an enriching and rewarding process to be successful long-term. We use little droplets of blood to encourage Stumpy to step onto the station to be weighed and monitored, and we finish each training session with some of her favourite fruits and veggies. 

“Stumpy is maintaining a really good weight range. She’s participating in the training sessions regularly, which means that it’s a really rewarding process for her. Overall, she’s doing great.” 

Shingleback lizards are an Australian native reptile, with stable populations from south west of Western Australia, across the Great Australia Bight to the west of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.  

Stumpy was rescued by a wildlife carer in 2001 and treated at the Werribee Open Range Zoo veterinary hospital after sustaining injuries to her toes. Unable to be re-released to the wild, Stumpy is now an ambassador for her wild cousins and can be seen at the Zoo’s Ranger Kids exhibit.