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"Taming" Monitors Print E-mail
Captive Care of Monitors
Extract from A Little Book of Monitor Lizards © D. Bennett 1995. Viper Press, UK

Well-kept monitor lizards do not require any grooming. If their toenails become too long and need to be cut this should be taken as an indication that the furnishings in the enclosure are unsuitable. Dead skin should come off of its own accord. If it needs to be pulled off this indicates that some environmental parameter (probably humidity) is incorrect. Some of the people who have had most success with breeding monitor lizards consider it important that the animals do not get used to being handled and are allowed plenty of privacy. One obvious reason for this is that monitor lizards show their dominance to weaker individuals by rubbing their backs or lying on top of them. A monitor lizard that is handled in this way assumes the role of a subordinate animal and may be less likely to initiate or respond to courtship. However, in the family environment the lizard keeper may feel that it is in their interests that the lizards tolerate gentle handling by themselves, their parents or their children. The irrational fear of reptiles experienced by many unfortunate people often vanishes when they touch one and realise that it is warm and dry rather than slimy and cold. When monitor lizards are used to being handled they are much less inclined to struggle and bite. Individuals used to humanity from a early age are sometimes extremely docile. The process of taming some monitor species is neither dangerous nor difficult if the animals are obtained as juveniles. Individual monitor lizards have very different temperaments and many will become placid, almost friendly, in human company. However is not a total guarantee of safety, and large specimens should be treated with caution at all times, regardless of their disposition. The monitor keeper who is admitted to hospital as a result of his or her carelessness does little to enhance the popular perception of reptiles.

To tame a monitor lizard it should be handled regularly. Wash your hands to remove all scents that might be interpreted as edible and hold the monitor firmly. It will struggle at first, but should eventually settle down. Some monitors enjoy being scratched gently; under the chin, above the eyes, and particularly behind the ear. They almost seem to show their pleasure by closing the eyes and breathing deeply. After a while one gets used to a particular monitor's erogenous zones and the taming process becomes easier. There is a sensation associated with tickling an enormous water monitor under the chin that is difficult to describe! If they do get annoyed they will usually give ample warning by hissing and inflating the throat before resorting to violence. In this case, leave them for a day and try again. Never handle a monitor while it is digesting large meals and never attempt to tame large animals unaccustomed to people. The more they are handled as youngsters, the tamer they will be as adults, but it is important to continue to handle the monitor regularly throughout its life, lest it forgets. Very large monitor lizards have the potential to inflict horrendous injuries and they should always be treated with caution. All monitors react to smell, and approaching a large male whilst bearing the scent of a rival could give you more than you bargained for.

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