The information on the BambooZoo site is as much as 10 years old and in the hobby much has been learned. Though, I believe there is merit in keeping the site open. There are many controversial issues presented in these pages. Please view BambooZoo as a starting point in your research.
These beings are as complicated as we are and deserve more than a basic 5 paragraph care sheet to maintain their health and well being.
My passions have evolved. This is is the site I am growing today. We Heal the World
SO, YOU WANT A SAVANNAH MONITOR
WRITTEN BY: Razaiel
Well it is Sav Season – you see them in the reptile stores and up for rehoming on internet forums and rescue centres. And baby savs look really cute with their big black eyes and frightened look, not only that, but you can buy one for the same price (or less) than a bearded dragon. More lizard for same or less money – must be a deal!! But consider carefully. Having been on various monitor forums for a few years now, I have seen new monitor keepers come and go – I have noted a large portion of the people I “grew up with” in first-time monitor keeping deciding they just can’t keep him/her any more – be it due to size, room needed or temperament – so of course their reptile is up for sale. Then there are the others who post pics of their baby all over the internet and one day they just disappear… you have to wonder why. Just yesterday I was approached by someone I consider should be a bit more knowledgeable (i.e. one of our local reptile store’s employees) to ask if I would like another sav as he just can’t cope with it any more as it is “too big”.
Thus the reason for this, which started off life as being a quick brief, but has ended up being almost a dissertation. I am not promoting myself as an expert, as I am far from that, but if this helps anyone who thinks a sav might be a nice addition without thinking it through and researching, then it has been worth it.
Firstly, my thanks to Rick (Rick_Albig) – much more experienced monitor keeper than I who keeps various varanids, and kindly looked this over for me to make sure I hadn’t made any errors or misinformed anywhere – and who also offered his input regarding CBB specimens and the electrical & safety aspect of things (as he is a qualified electrical engineer).
Now for the very basics – this is a lizard that has the potential to grow to 4ft (occasionally more) – thus it needs a huge vivarium (8x4) with approx 2ft of substrate and you may well need to give up half one of your rooms to it (as we did). They like it hot (= high electricity bills) and lots of food – which is expensive assuming you feed correctly. Now for the main part…
Unfortunately, most of these lizards are impulse buys and the majority are wild caught. There is also much confusion in the way they should be kept - the majority of reptile stores I have come across keep them in exactly the same setup as they would use for a beardie (complete with sand, a background of Monument Valley and fake cactus), when in fact they are semi arid grassland monitors which require a totally different environment. They look small and cute in the shop and some people may think they could be the next step up from a bearded dragon – a huge (and possibly painful) expectation if you are hoping to be guaranteed a friendly, cuddly lizard. In fact what often happens is, in a shop you have a baby monitor housed in less than optimum conditions that will almost always be kept cooler than it should be – which in turn makes it lethargic and appear “tame”. People then get them home, put them in a nice viv with decent basking temps (hopefully) and their cute little scaly baby gradually gets to his proper temperatures and appears to change overnight. I wish I had a quid for the number of times I’ve heard people say “he was so cute in the shop but he hates me now!”
So let’s say you’ve done your research and decided on getting one. Always try and find a CBB animal. This will be difficult and you will almost certainly have to pay more (initially) for the animal but people who have managed to source these have said it is always worth it. Be very wary of shops claiming to be selling CBB boscs, if they claim they are, then ask for hatching dates, photos of the parents, clutch size etc…. If they cannot answer all or even some of these questions I would not believe them. If you fail to find a CBB animal my advice is to get the most feisty and lively one there – the one that tries to take the shop-keepers fingers off when he goes to grab it is likely to be the most healthy – which is what you want especially considering what they have gone through to get this far. It is a sad fact that a large percentage do not make it and die in transit from Africa.
Check the animal for general health and mobility. Can it walk OK? Is its vent clear? Are its eyes clear and bright? External parasites, especially ticks, are very common on WC African varanids. Sunken eyes and loose skin is also a classic sign of dehydration. All of these are things to consider. If you are an inexperienced keeper can you really cope with all of this added stress and do you have the funds to provide the veterinary care that may be required?
You will need a place to build a large, sturdy enclosure. Personally I use 8X4 as do many other exanthematicus keepers – even then I feel he could use a lot more space. When you consider the distances these creatures will travel in the wild – even the run of the house isn’t going to compete (even if it were suitable for them which it is not). The enclosure will also need to be moisture-proofed due to the high humidity.
Proper substrate is important. You can use yard dirt as long as it is free of pesticides and fertilizers. I know some people who use Cypress Mulch – it does apparently work although it won’t hold a burrow. You can also go to Homebase etc and get some playsand, peat moss and non-organic topsoil and mix it with water to get the right consistency. Make it about 2 feet deep. My next project is to get some builders dirt (sandy loam) and mix that in as well.
A temp gun is pretty essential to check your basking site temperature – which should be around 130 degrees for babies and around 150 for adults. Mine will bask in excess of 150 even. I have my bank of lights on chainlink – so I can adjust them up and down to achieve the basking temp my monitor likes.
You will also need a digital thermometer with a probe and a humidity read out. This will allow you to properly set your ambient temps. I keep my hot side at 90 degrees while my cool side is around 75 degrees with humidity between 45 and 60% (it will read more than that even deeper down within the substrate in the cool end).
For the basking site I use 2x60w halogen watt flood lights plus a 100W megaraybulb on the adjustable chainlink bank referred to above. I always prefer a bank of low wattage bulbs over one or two high wattage lights (above 150w for example.) There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that most cable available to the public is not designed to withstand the very high temperatures created by these high wattage lights, this could result in damage to the insulation and ultimately risk a fire or electrocution. If you are ever unsure about any electrical wiring that needs doing please seek the advice of a professional. Another reason being the higher wattage bulbs suck all the humidity out of the enclosure. Do not use the lights with clear centres - these can burn your lizard. The beam from the lights will need to cover your basking lizard from snout to vent at least. For ambient night time temps I use a ceramic heat emitter hooked up to a pulse-proportional thermostat. For more information on heating a large enclosure – this is a good article by Rick_Albig of this forum – who also happens to be a qualified electrical engineer as well as multiple-monitor keeper http://www.reptileforums.co.uk/lizards/104638-heating-large-enclosures-how-too.html.
Food. You will need lots and lots of food. In the wild they eat mostly insects and I would strongly encourage any potential keepers to follow the same regimen. Lots and lots of bagged insects can prove expensive. I feed my monitor crickets, roaches, locusts, morios - and shall be starting a project to breed giant African land snails. The insects get dusted with vitamins and calcium supplement. He also has some quail and mice though very few of these, only 2 per week at the most. Do not use dog/cat food – even my dog doesn’t get dog food! Whole foods are what a monitor requires – complete with all the bones, teeth etc.
You will need a large tub of water that your lizard can actually get into if he wants. It will need to be changed daily. If you notice your lizard is doing a lot of soaking in his water – it could mean your humidity is too low.
Hide spots. They like hiding and it will reduce stress. They can make their own burrows in the substrate or you can help him. I use the large flat bark woods available and also a hollow bark log. Sav enjoys squeezing under this wood and within the dirt-filled hollow log. I half bury these in the dirt which encourages him to dig and get exercise. Never pull them from their hide. If you do they won’t feel safe and secure. It is nice to put in other things for the lizard to climb over and explore – I also have rocks and large logs in mine.
Handling. Patience - this is necessary for your lizard to be accustomed to it’s new home. Change the water, offer food and do basic maintenance and let him get used to the idea that the big ugly creature (that’s you) isn’t going to harm him. I personally don’t go in for a lot of handling, but my lizard trusts me. I see no reason to grab him out and “cuddle” him. I have never been bitten by a monitor and it’s not something I want to try. An adult male can put you in hospital with stitches.
Extra Reading - Books: Daniel Bennett– The Truth about Varanus Exanthematicus. Mark K Bayless - Savannah Monitors: A Complete Guide to Varanus Exanthematicus.
Also join some of the monitor-specific forums across the internet.
Razaiel can be found at:
With appreciation expressed to the many participating in building this site.HOME