Identification and Record-Keeping

Record keeping is an important aspect of good lizard husbandry, and a condition for all Wildlife Act authorities (permits). Maintaining accurate records allows authorised holders to keep track of their current and previous holdings, as well as each individual lizard’s condition, their captive history, and parentage/offspring - which is crucially important given the limited gene pool for many species in captivity.

There are generally two aspects to record keeping:

  • Annual returns / annual status reports.
  • Individual records.

Both aspects are required by DOC under Wildlife Act authorities.


Annual returns:

Annual returns are a summary of all native lizards that have been held in, or passed through an authorised holder’s facility within a given year.

DOC requires returns from keepers to be submitted once annually at a time stipulated in each individual Wildlife Act authority (holders will need to check their individual authorisation as the deadline for these to be submitted varies).

Annual returns should list all species held within the return period, and include the following information for each of those species:

  • Total number of individuals held specifying:
    • Males
    • Females
    • Juveniles / Unsexed
  • The number of individuals born.
  • Any lizards that have died during this period.
  • Any lizards that have escaped during this period.
  • Any lizard transfers that have occurred between your facility and others during this period, including the number of males, females or juveniles.

A blank annual return form used by NZHS members is provided below.

NZHS annual return form


Annual status reports:

Annual status reports are required by higher level permits and in addition to the above information should include additional details about any changes or upgrades to the facility, any health screening that has been undertaken or health issues which have been encountered, and other notes / learnings from the period which may be of interest.

An exemplar annual status report can be found in the following link:

NZHS annual status report


Individual records:

Records should be kept for every individual lizard in your collection. This is important for a number of reasons and helps to maintain in one place all the information relating to that animal including aspects such as their age, sex, health records, reproductive history and provenance. Knowing this information is crucial to managing the viability of captive populations including the prevention of potential hybridisation or inbreeding depression, and (for certain species) maintaining any conservation value these lizards have as insurance populations or for future breeding programmes.

For such records to be held, each individual needs to be identifiable. This means having a unique identification number / name, and method of identifying the individual that name / number attaches to.  


Identification numbers:

Many keepers will be inclined to give their animals names, but this is not a reliable method to make each individuals identifier unique e.g. there are multiple holders who have named their forest gecko ‘Forrest’. Therefore, it is useful for each individual lizard in captivity to be given a unique number / code instead of (or in addition to) a ‘name’. One way of doing this is the keeper-species-number method. This involves coming up with a unique code for the keeper who breeds the lizard or gives the animal its code – for example their initials. This is followed by a five-letter code for the species using the first letter of their genus and first four letters of their species name, for example forest gecko (Mokopirirakau granulatus) becomes ‘MGRAN’. The last digits should be the number of the individual for that species which has either been received or bred in that person’s collection. For example, Joe H. Bloggs (keeper identifier JHB) has two forest geckos with codes JHB-MGRAN-001 and JHB-MGRAN-002, they breed and Joe finds two baby geckos in the enclosure, these would then be given the codes JHB-MGRAN-003 and JHB-MGRAN-004. Once an animal is issued with a code / number this should not be changed, and stay with the animal throughout its life. If done correctly this should allow individual lizards to be tracked over time and across captive holdings / collections, which is invaluable for information sharing and management of captive populations.


Identification photos:

Once an animal has a unique code/number, there needs to be a method of linking them with this identifier. Historically, this has included methods such as toe-clipping, which is no longer an approved method and was unreliable due to natural toe loss from fighting etc. The currently accepted best method of identifying individual lizards is through the use of photo-identification. This involves taking good photographs of suitable aspects of pattern which vary between individuals. For geckos this usually requires a photograph of the dorsal (back) pattern, whereas for skinks this may require photos of lateral patterning such as between the snout and forelimbs on either side.

For more information on how to take identification photos of animals in your facility / collection see the document in the following link:

How to photograph NZ Lizards for individual ID’s


What information should be recorded?

At a minimum, records should be held for each individual lizard in your facility which include the following information:

  • Identification number / name.
  • Identification photos.
  • Species.
  • Sex.
  • Date of birth.
  • Date of receipt into your collection / facility.
  • Geographic origin (if known).
  • Identification numbers / names of parents (if known).
  • Previous holders’ names, contact details, and authorisation numbers.
  • Date of removal from your collection (or death)
  • Recipient’s name, contact details and authorisation number.

For rarer species on higher-level authorisations, holders are also required to collect the following morphometric data from each lizard:

  • Annual snout-to-vent length (SVL) measurements, and
  • Annual weight measurements

For more information on how to collect such information from your lizards refer to the document in the following link:

Measuring and weighing NZ lizards


In addition to the basic record-keeping requirements, useful information can be gleaned from including additional information about each animal such as:

  • Health history including (but not limited to):
    • Ectoparasites
    • Endoparasites
    • MBD
    • Injuries
  • Which enclosures animals have been housed in including:
    • The dates they were held in a given enclosure, and
    • Any cohabitants they shared the enclosure with.

(In the event disease occurs within a holders facility / collection, this information will help indicate which animals may be affected or where the disease may next turn up).

  • Behavioural observations including (but not limited to):
    • Food preferences.
    • Mating behaviour.
    • Aggressive encounters with other lizards / species.
    • Notes on general activity periods, foraging and basking behaviour – changes in which may indicate altered social dynamics / potential suppression.


The following record exemplars have been produced by the NZHS committee in consultation with experts for use by authorised holders of NZ lizards. Blank record sheets which can be filled in are available in the following links.

Blank basic lizard record

Blank detailed lizard record (RECOMMENDED)

Exemplar detailed record (filled in)