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Free Ebook - The truth about Varanus exanthematicus Print E-mail











In 2002 Ravi Thakoordyal and I wrote this book about savannah monitor lizards. There had been lots of other books about savannah monitor lizards published before, but they were not very good, and we thought that because I had studied the animal in the wild and Ravi had bred it in captivity we could write a better one. The book we wrote combined observations on the natural history of the animal with suggestions about how it should be kept in captivity. We assumed that Varanus exanthematicus would consistently respond to the same captive care as some other monitor lizards such as Varanus acanthurus and Varanus panoptes, whose husbandry had been revolutionised by pioneers in the USA.

After we wrote the book my attention shifted to a very different monitor lizard, and for 13 years I didn’t pay much attention to what was happening with savannah monitors in captivity. When I looked I was horrified. Captive breeding of Varanus exanthematicus is no more common today than in was in the 20th century and it’s clear that females either never cycle, or cycle a few times and never cycle again. Almost all females that do cycle are dead within two years. Almost no animals of either sex survived for five years and none for ten. The husbandry that we suggested has failed with the savannah monitor.

That was a horrific discovery. But worse was that suggestions that we had had made in that book been turned into dictums on the internet by well meaning, but ultimately misguided people.  Despite advocating very strict and demanding husbandry requirements for the lizards, their lizards failed to reproduce. For over a decade they had been preaching this stuff on the internet but there had been no improvement in the amount of captive breeding or maximum longevity in captivity. The only good thing to say for it is that it probably reduced the amount of juvenile mortality by highlighting their tendency to dehydrate. But they survive to become adults who are just sterile balls of lard. That is not successful reptile husbandry and anybody who tells you it is has their own agenda.

Responsible websites about savannah monitor lizards need to emphasize that the lizard is completely unsuitable for captivity and that nobody has ever succeeded in keeping it properly, despite the fact that there have been over 1 million specimens exported from three or four countries in West Africa since the 1970s. Instead they claim that they are competent to teach you how to care for savannah monitor lizards, and that keeping them in captivity can be a rewarding experience. I think that is a monstrous approach to a huge welfare problem in wildlife trade.

I cannot unwrite my book and take full responsibility for it. It was premature to claim that these methods would result in consistent success with the species, and it’s now clear that they are insufficient for Varanus exanthematicus. What’s needed is unambiguous recognition of the problem, concerted efforts to deter people from buying the animals (which fuels demand for more imports), and a practical guide to caring for savannah monitors that is manageable for rescue workers and the young and foolish people who have bought these lizards without being aware of the miserable plight of the animals in captivity. The “expert” website are of no help in this regard because they parrot certain recommendations from our book as the only acceptable parameters for husbandry, which is clearly not the case, and fail to warn prospective owners of the absolute failure of the species in captivity.

You can download the book here








About Mampam
William Oliver

William Oliver. Champion of biodiversity and its students. So many of us benefited from his advice and expertise. What a character. RIP.


Help Mampam
The Butaan Project
The Butaan Project - Research
butaan3.jpgThe only obligate fruit-eaters among reptiles are three species of monitor lizard that live in the Philippines. Frugivorous vertebrates tend to be able to fly (almost all are bats and birds) and so these lizards have a unique ecological role as highly specialized and relatively immobile fruit eaters. Before this project started, the only studies of this unique giant and endangered lizard had involved killing the animals. We have developed a set of techniques that allow us to learn about these animals in a completely non-destructive way.


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