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Savannah Monitors Print E-mail

ImageSavannah monitor lizards are one of the most abused animals in the reptile pet trade. Toted as an easy to care for species it is actually a highly specialised animal that takes a long time to die in unsuitable conditions. Thousands are imported from Africa each year, almost none are bred in captivity and they are one of the most common lizard species encountered by animal rescue organisations. Demand for the animals has been fuelled by a series of books and articles that have completely ignored the animals' specialised ecology and given the wholly incorrect impression that the animals are "easy to keep", "ideal for beginners" "will eat almost anything" etc.  These publications are sold almost exclusively in pet shops simply to increase sales, and with utter disregard for the welfare of the animals.










Over half a million savannah monitors (Varanus exanthematicus) have been imported into the USA alone since CITES records began in the 1970s. A tiny proportion survive longer than a year in captivity and far fewer than 50 reports of captive breeding worldwide have been recorded. Virtually everything that has been written about the savannah monitor has been published in books produced by the pet industry to promote the trade. They suggest, without any evidence whatsoever, that Varanus exanthematicus is a generalist, or even a highly opportunistic scavenger, and that it is an easy and undemanding animal to keep in captivity. The truth is that the savannah monitors are very specialised animals that require much more care than most people are able or willing to provide.

For the last 16 years I have taken an active interest in the captive welfare and natural history of this animal and have found myself in direct opposition to the publishers and authors of these fictitious and harmful books. In 2000 a book about savannah monitors was published that was so bad I felt I had no choice but to publish one myself. 





Our pet-owners' guide to savannah monitor lizard is the first ever written by people who have studied the animals in the wild and bred them in captivity. There are at least seven books in print about the savannah monitor, but we think this is the only one worth reading! Last few available 










U.K. Customers


   Customers outside U.K.


To mark the export of half a million savannah monitors from Africa for the pet trade in the 21st century “The Truth about Varanus exanthematicus has been released as an ebook.  


  This is the coastal plain of Ghana where most savannah monitor lizards are collected for the pet trade. Hunters either target juvenile animals that are found in farmland or gravid females that are found in the surrounding grasslands coastalpianfromhill-2.jpg


Hatchling savannah monitors are closely associated with the burrows of the giant cricket Brachytrupes. Very high densities have been recorded in farmland areas. Densities of juveniles are much lower in uncultivated grasslands. Adults are not usually found in farmland. 










Almost all the people who trap savannah monitors for the pet trade are economic immigrants from poorer countries like Burkina Faso. They get less than $1 for a juvenile and $3 for a gravid female. Animal trapper commonly encounter spitting cobras when excavating burrows and termite mounds.









Dietary studies of savannah monitor lizards have been carried out in Senegal and in Ghana. They suggest that Varanus exanthematicus feeds almost entirely on arthropods and snails. The savannah monitor is one of the few large monitor species that is not attracted to bait. Its ecology is therefore much more specialised than that of other African monitor lizards.



Adult savannah monitors live in uncultivated grasslands. During dry periods the animals are inactive and remain below ground. Their diets in both Ghana and Senegal consist of giant millipedes and other arthropods including orthopterans and scorpions, a much narrower diet than any other species of African monitor lizard.








































Links and more info:

The Savannah Monitor Lizard "The Truth about Varanus exanthematicus"

The monitor spot. Ravi Thakoordyal's website

Varanus exanthematicus from A Little Book of Monitor Lizards (1995)

Video of savannah monitors in the wild (poor quaity but unique)

Bennett, D. 2000. Preliminary data on the diet of Varanus exanthematicus in the coastal plain of Ghana. Herp. Journal 10. 

Bennett, D. 2000 The abundance of Varanus exanthematicus in the coastal plain of Ghana. Amphibia-Reptilia

Bennett, D. 2000. Observations of Bosc's monitor lizard (Varanus exathematicus) in the wild. Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc 25(8)

Mampam Conservation Library

Book Review - Savannah Monitors by Robert Sprackland

Book review - Savannah Monitors by Lolly Brown 



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The mampam website has been running for 25 years and aims to provide full details of projects at no charge. All out of print books and multimedia guides are provided here and full image archives are being developed for each project. This will complete the website's mission.


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The Butaan Project
The Butaan Project - Foraging behaviour

butaan7.jpgWe use feces to investigate diet and activity areas of butaan. In total we have examined more than 1500 samples, possibly the largest ever collected for a single population of reptiles.  Butaan and their relatives are huge specialised frugivores, much bigger than any other specialised frugivorous animal in  the Philippines. They need a constant supply of fruit but lack the wings that allow other frugivores to forage in different forest fragments. Large and immobile, the butaan depends on a very narrow range of foods.



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