Normally the format we use for a pet introduction is why blank is a great family pet. For Savannah Monitors we need to deviate from that, because for most families they are not great pets. The sad reality is that most families that will get a Savannah Monitor will give it up at some point in the first few years of its life.
These pets are not good with kids, they don’t like being handled and they really don’t care what you want, they have their own plans. We strongly encourage people interested in this animal to read this article, and then watch some YouTube videos on how they are with their owners. We cannot stress this enough that this is NOT a reptile you should consider unless you have a lot of experience with reptiles and fully understand what you are getting into.
The reality is that 99% of the people who will read this article will not be ready for this animal as a pet. We want to provide you with all the information we can on all of the pet options you have, but we also want to be fully honest. We want your pets to be just as happy as you are, and most people will be just as unhappy as your Monitor is after a few months or a year. There are a lot better reptiles that you can bring home to your family, and we hope for your and their sake that you pick them and not a Savannah Monitor.
Savannah Monitors are medium size monitor lizards. They have a stocky shaped body with short legs and short toes with sharp claws. The legs are strong and muscular helping them dig and burrow.
They have powerful jaws and blunt teeth that let them crush prey. They have a fork-shaped tongue that lets them sniff the air and find prey in the wild. Their tongue has a special organ similar to snakes that lets them detect chemicals in the air. Savannah Monitors have a tail that has a triangle shape and tapers to a point.
The skin color of the Savannah Monitor can vary as there are 5 subspecies. The color of their skin depends on the local substrate in their environment. The main colors you’ll see on them are brown, tan or gray. Savannah Monitors have tough thick skin with scales that look like flat pebbles.
Savannah Monitors are ground-dwelling lizards that are active during the day and sleep at night. Many families report that they are not very active lizards and spend most of their time basking in the sun, burrowing in the ground or eating. Others report that if they are kept warm enough that they are very active and will move around their enclosure quite a bit. What everyone can agree on is that they like to climb and are excellent at digging.
Savannah Monitors are territorial and solitary lizards but with the proper handling, usually become docile pets in captivity. Baby Savannah Monitors can be defensive in the beginning but they will get used to human handling the more time you spend with them. When you first get them, allow the Monitor to get used to their new enclosure before you start handling them. Regular handling from a young age will help build trust with their owners. This is not a short process, and some Monitors will never be comfortable being handled.
While they are not generally aggressive, Savannah Monitors can sometimes bite or whip owners with their tail. Their sharp teeth and strong tail can hurt their owners. Fortunately they don’t tend to attack unless they’re afraid or really angry. To avoid being bitten try not to make any sudden movements near them or try to handle them while they are feeding. Sudden movements are the easiest way to cause them to feel threatened and defend themselves.
Children should not be allowed to handle Savannah Monitors even with adult supervision. The lizards can hurt or injure children with their sharp teeth and powerful tail. These animals are difficult to control. Even with older children there is a good chance that your Monitor will be too much for your children to handle. We don’t recommend doing anything beyond the ability of your children or your pet or children could get hurt.
Anyone handling or touching Savannah Monitors should always wash their hands after being around them. Most lizards are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should keep your children from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses from the monitor lizard.
Savannah Monitors should be kept in a large enclosure with plenty of space to move around. Since they need a large area, a custom-built enclosure is recommended for them.
The enclosure should be tightly secured from all sides to make sure they don’t have a way to escape. Use an enclosure that comes with glass or Plexiglass sides. Avoid getting a screen-sided enclosure as the Monitors could shred them with their strong claws.
For the first few months baby Savannah Monitors can be kept in a 55-gallon aquarium. 55-gallon aquariums are not exactly cheap, so most people will have a custom enclosure even for small Monitors. This helps avoid the unnecessary hassle of having to move the Monitor to a bigger enclosure and spending a lot of money.
Remember that they will soon need a larger enclosure because they grow very fast and generally double in length within 4 months. Many owners like to keep a large enclosure ready before they get a Monitor.
Adult Savannah Monitors will reach their full length in 3 years and will need an enclosure that is at least two times their length. Since they grow up to 5 feet an enclosure that is at least 10L’ x 6W’ is recommended. The cage should be at least 3-feet tall to keep the lizard from escaping, but 6 feet would be better. Adding additional height will allow you to add several branches for them to climb on.
Savannah Monitors like to climb and several branches should be added inside their enclosure. The branches should be strong enough to hold the weight of the lizard without breaking. Several rocks and hides should be added to give them places to hide.
Savannah monitors are known to be destructive and can damage the decorations. Only add decorations that are strong and sturdy to keep them from getting damaged.
Savannah Monitors like to burrow and will need a substrate that allows them to dig. The substrate should be deep and tightly packed to make sure the lizards will enjoy the digging. One important thing to know is that Savannah Monitors are uncontrollable eaters and may accidentally consume substrate while feeding. The substrate used should not be something that can be easily compacted. Easily compacted substrate could lead to their digestive tract getting clogged. Good substrate options include sand, organic soil, or a mixture of both.
You could use newspaper or paper towels for the substrate, but your Monitor won’t be able to dig and won’t be nearly as happy. Ideally they’ll have 16 to 24 inches of substrate that will let them dig and be happy lizards. It is important to keep this clean and replace it every 2 to 4 weeks as it gets dirty.
Part of the hassle of owning a Savannah Monitor is regularly replacing all their substrate. You can wash it in the yard with buckets and cheese cloth to avoid buying new sand or soil each month, but it’s still going to be a huge hassle.
A larger water dish should be placed inside the cool side of the enclosure. The dish should be large enough to allow the lizard to submerge their entire body. One good option is to use a cat litter box or a water tub. A separate water bowl with fresh drinking water should be placed inside the enclosure.
Creating an ideal climate inside the enclosure is important for Savannah Monitors. The ideal conditions will help them regulate their body temperature and metabolism. Separate warm and hot areas need to be created using heating and lighting equipment.
All the lighting and heating equipment should be out of reach of the Savannah Monitors. Coming in contact with them can cause skin burns that can be difficult to treat.
To check the conditions inside the enclosure several thermometers and hygrometers should be added to both the warm and hot sides.
The average temperature of the enclosure should be kept between 95°F and 100°F with a basking spot kept between 110°F and 130 °F. An under-tank heating pad can be added to keep the warm side temperature within the range. If you have a lot of substrate in the enclosure a heating pad may not be able to provide enough warmth to provide any meaningful heating in the enclosure. An incandescent bulb or spotlight can be used if heating pads are not an option. Bulbs are also the best choice for the basking spot. Avoid using heating rocks because it can cause skin burns.
The nighttime temperature does not need to be as warm and can be kept between 75°F and 78°F. Use ceramic emitters or a nocturnal reptile bulb instead of light. Ceramic emitters will make sure their nocturnal cycle is not affected by unnecessary lighting at night.
Savannah Monitors need a relative humidity of 40 to 50%. Mildly misting the tank regularly will help maintain the humidity. The hide areas of the Monitors should remain moist either by misting or by adding sphagnum moss.
Full-spectrum UVB lighting should be added to help the Monitors absorb calcium from their diet. The UVB bulb should emit a high percentage output of 8 to 10 percent. Keep them on for 10 to 12 hours every day. The UVB bulbs need to be changed every 6 months because they will lose their efficiency over time.
Savannah Monitors sometimes grow up to become receptive to human handling. They are not very demanding when it comes to getting attention from their owners. Their attention needs mostly involve keeping the recommended climate conditions inside their enclosure and feeding them.
Though they are regarded as a popular reptile pet in the United States they generally don’t thrive for long in captivity. The reason for this is Savannah Monitors need specialized care that only experienced reptile owners can give. They’re also not easy pets to care for, and many owners neglect them because of their difficulty.
These monitor lizards need a lot of space and will need a large enclosure of at least 6 feet long, but in most cases 10 feet long. Their enclosure will take up a lot of space in your home or in your yard. If that is too much for you, this is another reason to avoid getting them as a pet.
Common health issues are:
This is the most common health issue that Savannah Monitors have. These lizards are compulsive eaters and will eat almost everything that you give them. They will become obese if they eat too much. If your Monitor is gaining weight, make sure you are feeding them the right foods, and possibly reduce the amount you give them. Avoid giving them fatty foods. They should be encouraged to exercise by adding rocks and branches to their enclosure. If possible they can be taken out of the cage and allowed to exercise. It is important to look after their diet and weight because an obese Savannah Monitor will have a reduced live.
MBD is the result of a poor diet that is low in calcium and high in phosphorus. Lack of exposure to sunlight or UV lighting can also cause MBD. Symptoms include:
An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts.
Treatments can range from injecting the Savannah Monitor with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your pet from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.
Both wild-caught and captive-bred Savannah Monitors can carry parasites on and in their body. Signs of parasitic infection include:
External parasites can sip blood from their skin and can be painful for your lizard. Parasitic infections can be life-threatening and should be treated as soon as possible. Consult a vet if you find the above symptoms in your pet lizard.
Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity and stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia in Savannah’s. Symptoms include:
Take your Savannah Monitor to a vet if they have any of the above symptoms. If the infection is severe, the animal may need hospitalization.
Savannah Monitors shed their skin every 4 to 6 weeks. The shedding is in patches and not all at once. To help with shedding the Savannah Monitors will immerse their body in the water. If your Savannah Monitor seems to have problems shedding, increase the humidity slightly.
Sphagnum moss can be added inside their hide boxes as it will keep the hide moist and help them with shedding.
Decorations like rocks and branches should help naturally wear down their nails. If their nails don’t wear down naturally, use a reptile nail clipper to trim them. Check their eyes, ears and skin once a week for any signs of infections.
You’ll want to spot clean the enclosure at least every other day. Full cleanings of the entire enclosure should happen once every 4 to 6 weeks and replace the substrate completely. Remove your Monitor and decorations before you begin cleaning the enclosure. Your lizard should be kept in a secured and escape-proof area. Scrub the sides of the enclosure thoroughly and clean the decorations using a mild bleaching solution. Let the enclosure and decorations dry out completely before placing everything and your lizard back inside.
Savannah Monitors are carnivore lizards and should be fed a high protein diet. The majority of their diet should be made up of gut-loaded insects like crickets, silkworms, king mealworms, super worms, grasshoppers, and cockroaches. Gut-loading involves feeding the prey insects with nutritious food. These nutrients then pass on to the lizards when they feed on them.
Savannah Monitors can be given crayfish and low-fat foods like egg whites. Waxworms or pre-killed mice can be offered but only occasionally because these are high in fat. If they eat these foods regularly it can cause them to gain weight.
The amount and frequency of feeding will vary based on the size of your lizard. Young Monitors up to 3 feet long can be fed a small mouse with some insects or 2-4 mice, three times a week. Adult Savannah Monitors can be fed 2 to 3 mice along with insects, once a week. Avoid overfeeding because it can make them gain weight.
Dust the food of your Savannah Monitors with calcium supplements before each feeding. The extra calcium should help them avoid diseases like metabolic bone disease.
If you get nervous when you feed them you can feed them with the help of feeding tongs. Avoid using your hands because your lizard may mistake your hand for food and possibly bite you.
Their enclosure should have a water bowl with fresh drinking water at all times. Remove uneaten food and replace the water bowl with fresh drinking water daily.
A male and female or two female Savannah monitors can be housed together. Two male Savannah Monitors should not be kept together because they will fight. To keep more than one Savannah Monitor a very large enclosure will be needed that can be difficult to create. Because of the large size requirements we recommend to keep them alone.
Savannah Monitors are commonly hunted for leather and international pet trade. Around 100,000 Savannah Monitors are caught from their natural habitat and exported for the pet trade every year. These are mostly young monitors that are taken from females during the mating season. They are then ranched or bred in a controlled native environment before being sold to pet owners. Still they are not endangered and classified as Least Concern (LC) in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.
Savannah Monitors are often confused with White-Throat Monitor which looks similar to them. They are different species and have a slightly different appearance. White-Throat Monitors have a shorter and blunt snout with the top of their heads and neck that has a darker color in comparison to Savannah Monitors. White-Throat Monitors can grow up to 6 feet while Savannah Monitors grow only up to 5 feet. White-Throat Monitors were considered a subspecies of Savannah Monitors till 1989 but are now characterized as a separate species.