Adverts encouraging people to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) because they “might save a life” probably don't have lizard saving in mind. Yet Dave Hall of Caloundra, Australia, found reptiles also have a heart that can be restarted by applying human techniques.
On Tuesday, Hall found a blue-tongue lizard (Tiliqua scincoides) at the bottom of his swimming pool. His nephew fished the apparently lifeless lizard out. Undeterred, the family held the lizard upside down to drain water from its lungs and pumped its chest.
After 10-15 minutes without response the rescue team gave up and Hall dug a hole to bury it. “I went to put it in the hole and it winked at me,” Hall told ABC. “I thought, 'Hang on here. It might be a goer still.” After 20 further minutes without signs of life, Hall was once again ready to accept defeat, but there was another twitch as he put it in the hole, leading to a further burial adjournment.
After this the lizard, named Dusty after Hall's son, slowly started to show more signs of life to the point where Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast (WRSC) were called. The family was advised to keep Dusty warm until a volunteer could collect it and take it to the nearby Australian Zoo Animal Hospital, where it has been put on a nebulizer.
WRSC's Clair Smith told IFLScience it is the first time her organization has had an animal, of any species, saved by CPR. She acknowledged that just as when applying CPR to babies, care needs to be taken not to break the patient's sternum. In this case, however, she thinks Dusty was in such dire straights the family “were just trying anything”, as failure to act would certainly have stiffened the lizard. The decision to hold Dusty upside down so most of the water could drain out was particularly crucial.
Hall told IFLScience he works as a telecommunications rigger, at heights and often in remote areas. Consequently, his employer enforces regular first aid courses, which came in handy. “You're always told to clear the lungs first. You're supposed to depress a third of the chest, but I think you can sort of feel when pushing too hard.”
Although Smith told IFLScience Dusty's “prognosis is guarded”, she adds it was only the slow metabolism of the notoriously somnolent species that allowed it to survive so long without oxygen.
Smith and Hall both hope the story will inspire others to, in Hall's words, “have a crack”, and call wildlife rescue centers, when they see animals in need. Hall's previous efforts, requiring a tetanus shot after trying to save an ungrateful possum, may not be so encouraging. Meanwhile, Hall is now investigating devices that help wildlife escape pools.
Image in text: Dusty the blue-tongue in less happy times, shortly after being fished out of the pool and presumed dead. Thank goodness for slow lizard metabolisms that don't need much oxygen. Dave Hall