The savannah monitor, whose scientific name is Varanus exanthemathicus, is an intelligent lizard, in which four separate subspecies can be identified. The most common of these, as well as the species most suited to captive life is V. e. exanthemathicus. In the wild, its African range extends from Senegal to Eritrea, and from the Sahara to the rain forest in the south. All monitor lizards are distinguished by their long forked tongues, and remain among the largest of known lizard species. Savannah monitors are a medium sized carnivorous monitor, that may represent a good introductory monitor species to the reptile keeper who has decided to keep varanids species. Savannah monitors are also reputed as having a generally more docile disposition than other species of this family of lizards which also includes the infamous Komodo Dragon. With frequent, gentle handling, a savannah monitor can become extremely docile and result in a great joy to keep. As with any reptile species, successful care as well as pleasure of keeping relies heavily on the individual pet owner’s commitment to educate themselves about their specific pet.
The savannah monitor will reach maximum length of approximately 3-4 feet (approximately 1 meter). It is important to remember that 3 feet of lizard is a lot of lizard! Obtaining your varanid from an early age will insure that you have an adequate amount of time to invest in your animal before it develops unwanted behavioral issues. There are many factors that contribute to your animals lifespan. It is certainly not unreasonable to expect 12 to 15 years for a conservative lifespan. As with many other monitor species, or any captive animal for that matter, obesity can be a concern. It is very important to make sure that it is fed well-rounded, variable diets in moderation.
The savannah monitor is arguable one of the most beautiful of monitor species. With a number of factors that determine the skins coloration as an adult, the savannah monitor ranges light to dark brown skin with a slight grayish tint. It is accented by spots and stripes, with darker ringlets surrounding a lightly colored off-white or light gray spot. This tends for a gentle appearance in many person’s opinions. The skin in many individuals may have orange highlights, especially on the sides of the body and neck.
Obesity in varanids leads to fat deposits occurring in the monitor’s organs, especially the liver, which is often fatal. Over-feeding and so-called “power-feeding” young monitors can lead to calcium deficiency, which results in numerous problems including “rubber-jaw”. Another note worthy dietary warning is to not provide too much calcium supplementation either, as this can cause calcification (hardening) of internal organs.
The best diet is one of variety. In the wild savannah monitors may travel over 2 mile a day in search of a meal. The savannah is a very opportunistic. In the wild a variety of insects are consumed, as well as the occasional small bird or mammal. A healthy savannah monitor will not usually turn down a meal. It is instrumental in their development to reproduce this wild-like varied diet. There is a number of feeder insects available including mealworms, superworms, roaches, and crickets. Among these crickets and roaches contain the best natural sources of calcium. There is also a number of alternative balanced diets available for monitors, these are either canned or in a reseal –able bag. Purchasing a good quality calcium supplement is also highly recommended. It should not be used more than once or twice a week in conjunction with a good diet. Many experienced keepers have occasionally fed savannah monitors canned pet foods, and thawed ground meats, such as raw turkey. If these items are used, it is important to remember that they should be so, only as a supplement to proper nutrition. Younger savannah monitors will accept pinkie or fuzzy mice, and adults may be fed adult mice. It is also important that feeders not be derived from your local wild. Pesticides and other chemicals may accumulate in your monitors body and may result in death, either quickly, or over time.
When offering food to your monitor, even a baby savannah, do not offer it to them while holding either them or the food item. While not life threatening, a bite from a healthy savannah monitor can result in extensive damage to your body appendage. It is important to also realize that this feeding response in not intentional on the part of your pet, but rather a response that has taken thousands upon thousands of years to evolve. Just as a proper nutrition diet is necessary so is the availability of fresh, clean water. As a preventative measure I have always made it a point to neutralize any water given to all of my reptiles. These are very easy to use, and require, dependant upon brand, only a few drops per gallon of water. These neutralizing drops are marketed for aquariums for both fish and aquatic turtles, but have proven very useful for all reptiles. Eliminating the fluoride and chlorine in the water better simulates the fresh rainwater that wild animals have access to, without the expense involved in purchasing bottled water.
Your savannah monitor will need a habitat with enough room to exercise in. The savannah monitor will grown somewhat quickly so it is much more economical to purchase as large of a habitat as feasible, so your animal can grown into it, rather than out of it. The habitat should be set up with plenty of basking sites, as well as shelter to make your savannah feel more secure in. There are many different way to control temperatures, and probably the best is to use a combination of several techniques to achieve a natural, yet easily controlled temperature range. The cage may be adorned with artificial plants, branches and rocks to provide various changes of elevation for your pet. The substrate (floor covering) may be cypress mulch, Repti-bark, or good quality soil (without additives). Humidity levels should be kept low. A water dish/ bathing pool should be provided if space allows. It should contain enough fresh and clean water for your lizard to submerge in.
The temperature of your monitor’s environment is every bit as much as important as their diet. Being that the savannah monitor comes from dry and arid regions, this environment should be simulated in its habitat. The temperature within the cage should be monitored regularly in order to achieve the desired climate. It is also important to simulate day/ night cycles. Day time cycles should be 12 to 14 hours. Daytime temperatures should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 32 degrees Celsius). At night the temperatures may be allowed to drop, provided the ambient temperature stays above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. During daytime hours a basking site with a temperature of 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit should be provided. Providing a temperature gradient in the cage with the above outlined temperatures allows the Savannah to regulate it’s own temperature, just as it would do in the wild. To achieve daytime temperature ranges full spectrum lights may be used in conjunction with other devices such as ceramic heater, which use lamp outlets to produce heat. It is important for your savannah monitor’s health to make sure that a full spectrum light is used during daytime hours, as to provide the lizard with UVB rays, which has numerous health benefits, including proper metabolism. To keep nighttime temperatures an undertank heater, or ceramic heater may be used. Black lights are popular for night time heating, however there is evidence to suggest that they may actually contribute to eye problems in varanids. Every week or two giving your savannah monitor a bath, can promote better shedding skin, as well as health. Using temped water and a soft brush to gently scrub may become somewhat enjoyable for your monitor.
To experience a better pet experience, as well as contribute to better monitor health consider the Reptarium habitat by Apogee. Instead of a glass or plastic construction, they are constructed from a very durable nylon mesh, which provides maximum air circulation to your savannah monitor, which helps to control odors. It also allows a more personal interaction with your monitor, which aids in it becoming accustomed to you. Substrate should be cleaned immediately, if significant soiling is visible. Every month, the enclosure should be cleaned and disinfected. Make sure to wash the enclosure thoroughly after disinfecting, to prevent any chemicals from harming your savannah monitor.
After you purchase and receive your savannah monitor, it is important to give it time to acclimate to its new home. This may take a few hours, or it may take a week or so. During this time it is best to not over handle your monitor, and give it the necessary time to get accustomed first. During this period of acclimation it is frequent for the monitor to refuse to feed. This is normal and the animal should not be forced into eating, as this may lead to stress, which can have dire consequences.
After acclimation you should begin handling your savannah daily to get it accustomed to being handled. As a general rule, savannah monitors do not like being held, and may squirm at first. Due to this, it is important to have a firm but gentle hold on your monitor lizard, as to prevent it from injuring itself. Start with short period of handling and eventually over time, if persistent, you will have a savannah which not only tolerates human contact, but some believe actually enjoys the contact. When holding your monitor, or while it is in its habitat, gently touch and pet the sides of its body as well as neck. Use gently touches and if your monitor hisses, or lashes out with its tail, discontinue and give your animal a few minutes and attempt again later.
As with any pet, like a dog or cat, it is important to have a good relationship with a veterinarian who specializes in herpafauna medicine, and who is familiar with varanids. While any veterinarian with expertise in reptiles will suffice, one who has familiarity with varanids (monitors) would be ideal. Knowing your animals habits and individual traits is vitally important. Keeping a journal of your animals habits can help diagnose any potential problems should you need to take your monitor to the vet. Having your veterinarian assist you in assembling a savannah monitor first aid kit, and teaching you the warning signs for the onset of serious conditions can turn an average keeper into a responsible keeper. Veterinarians can also help assist you learning a variety of important care techniques that your pet may require, such as trimming its claws.
The savannah monitor is very intelligent, especially as reptiles are concerned. They along with other members of the Varanus family, exhibit problem solving abilities, and it may be possible to teach them simple things. Given this intelligence, it is important for the keeper to remain diligent. Although they are intelligent they are none-the-less predators and should not be left alone with other pets, or small children.
Responsible keeping involves continual education. The varanid family contains species and subspecies that are among science’s newest discoveries. It also contains the rarest and most intriguing specimens in the world. Due to this, there is a certain amount of misinformation, even among professional breeders. An advantage in keeping a savannah monitor is that it allows you the benefit of a well-documented species, with the prestige and allure of keeping one natures most perfectly evolved predators. There are many books, publications, studies, as well as internet information available for research and study. When all else fails, never be afraid to ask, that is what we are here for.
When all else fails, never be afraid to ask, that is what we are here for. We are at the front lines of varanid research, and are currently conducting ground breaking studies. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about your pet, or allow us to put together a presentation for your school, or organization.