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Eastern water dragon

Eastern water dragons have a row of spikes that run over the ridge of their back to protect them from predators.

Eastern water dragon

When the wagon you're 'dragon' gets stuck

It was a quiet afternoon in the environmental operations' office at the Nambour Depot when a staff member from a different department came rushing in. "There's a lizard stuck in the shed, are there any wildlife carers in here?" she asked.

A large male eastern water dragon (itellagama lesueurii) had gotten himself wedged tightly in the galvanised steel mesh that covers the door to the storage shed. The terrified animal was wildly thrashing around trying to escape but was completely unable to move forwards or backwards in the mesh. Raeleen Draper (flying fox management officer) grabbed a couple of pairs of heavy-duty gloves and I grabbed the wildlife rescue kit from my car.

We positioned ourselves either side of the mesh and I covered the lizard's head in a towel to stop him from seeing and reduce stress. Holding the eastern water dragon securely, at first we tried to manoeuvre his back legs through the hole to liberate him. By this stage he was so cranky with us he was hissing and unfortunately, after several minutes of moving his back legs and tail around, it was clear that he wasn't going anywhere.

The idea of bolt cutters was suggested and both Raeleen and myself internally groaned at the paperwork that we would have to do explain the apparent vandalism. Before hunting for tools and risking injuring our friend, we decided to try and squeeze him back out the way he came.

Eastern water dragons have a row of spikes that run over the ridge of their back to protect them from predators (also known as a nuchal and vertebral crest of spinose scales). However in this situation, the spines acted much like the ridges on a cable tie do - the poor guy was locked in. Spine by spine, centimetre by centimetre we threaded each spine back through the mesh. Then came the tricky part of negotiating his front legs back through the hole. Fortunately, there is a lot more flexibility in the front limbs compared to the back. With a bit of creative manoeuvring and movement, we were able to get both front legs through without causing any injury.

But our newfound friend wasn't prepared to come quietly. Still hissing with his mouth open and thrashing his head around, by now he had puffed out his throat, an intimidation tactic often used to defend territory from other males. Unfortunately, this made his already big head that much harder to get back through the hole. Ever so gently I had to coax his throat (which felt much like a balloon with stubble) back through the wire without getting my fingers bitten. With one final twist Raeleen was able to pull him free of the mesh.

Before letting him go, we carefully checked him for injuries. Once we were sure of his health, Raeleen released him back into the garden where he sat still for a few minutes, getting his bearings and recovering from stress before taking off.

We don't know what this guy was trying to get to in the shed - possibly a juicy rodent or insect to eat, possibly a female to mate with or perhaps this was the outcome of fleeing a territory conflict with another male. The chest and upper belly of our handsome friend was bright red in colour, indicating that he is male and of sufficient maturity to mate (at least five years old).

Courtship and mating begins at the onset of warmer weather in spring. A female will lay a clutch of 6-18 eggs in a burrow dug in sandy soil before back-filling the soil with her back legs and packing it down with her snout. The female will disguise the nest area by scattering leaf litter over the site. She will return for several days after laying to check on the nest but after that the nest and hatchlings are on their own. If the nest gets disturbed she will redo it and move the eggs, however they often don't hatch after a disturbance.

If you find injured or orphaned wildlife, whether at home, in public, or like us at your place of employment, please contact your local wildlife rescue group for assistance (contact details listed below). Alternatively, if you are interested in helping in a hands on way, many of these groups are looking for volunteers and offer training in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.

Some local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups

RSPCA (all hours)1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625)
Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital1300 369 652
Bat Rescue Inc0498 313 068
Bribie and District Wildlife Rescue Inc0400 836 592
Koala Rescue Queensland0423 618 740
Native R&R (Rescue and Rehabilitation)0432 320 348
Twinnies Pelican & Seabird Rescue5439 9995
Wildcare Australia5527 2444
Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast0448 148 013
WILVO's5441 6200