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Home » Savannah Monitor Information & Care – Enclosure, Diet and Health Requirements

Savannah Monitor Information & Care – Enclosure, Diet and Health Requirements

The Savannah monitor (Varanus exanthematicus) is a species of lizard native to the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa.

In the wild, these monitors are scavengers that cover large distances as they search for small prey items. Savannah monitors in the pet trade are either wild-caught or captive-raised.

Although Savannah monitors are small compared to many members of the Varanidae family, pet Savannah monitors can range from 3 to 6 feet in length, with their tail comprising almost half of their total body length.

With proper care, Savannah monitors can live up to 10-15 years as pets.

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Savannah Monitor as pet
Savannah Monitor in captivity
Scientific nameVaranus exanthematicus
Common name(s)Savannah monitor
Body length 3-4 feet
Body weight25 – 30 lbs
Sexual maturity2 – 3 years 
Lifespan10-15 years (in captivity)
Enclosure size6 x 3 x 6 feet (1.8 x 0.9 x 1.8 m)
Temperature85-100°F during the day
70-75°F at night
Humidity range60-70%
Recommended substrateCoconut fiber, cypress mulch, or a mixture of soil and sand

Savannah Monitor Diet

Savannah Monitors require a high protein diet consisting primarily of insects.

Offer gut-loaded insects such as large crickets, superworms, king mealworms, silkworms, grasshoppers, cockroaches, as well as crayfish and other low-fat foods like cooked egg whites.

Waxworms should only be offered occasionally, as they are high in fat. Pre-killed mice or rats can be offered, but only occasionally to reduce the risk of obesity.

To prevent injury always use tongs to introduce food and remove leftovers. Your monitor may mistake your moving fingers for moving prey when hungry.

Dust adult’s diet with a calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate supplement once weekly.

Calcium supplements should be free of or low in phosphorus with a minimum calcium: phosphorus ratio of 2:1. Avoid products containing Vitamin D as this can lead to toxicity.

A generic multi vitamin/mineral supplement may also be offered once weekly. Adults may be fed 2-3 times weekly.

Repticalcium Calcium Supplement
Zoo Med Repti Calcium without D3
Reptile-friendly Calcium SupplementRepcal Calcium without D3
Reptile Multivitamin Supplement
Fluker’s Repta Vitamin Reptile Supplement


Your monitor needs fresh water provided daily. Provide water in a heavy dish or tub large enough for your lizard to not only drink from but also completely submerge itself (they can stay underwater for extended periods of time).

Provide access to a larger soaking tub at least 1-2 times weekly for several hours.

Common Health Concerns

Savannah Monitors are generally healthy lizards, but they are prone to certain health problems, such as:

  • Metabolic bone disease: This condition is caused by a lack of calcium and vitamin D3. It can lead to soft, brittle bones and muscle weakness.
  • Parasites: Savannah Monitors can be infested with both internal and external parasites. It is important to have the lizard regularly checked by a veterinarian for parasites.
  • Respiratory infections: These infections can be caused by bacteria or viruses. They can be serious, especially in young lizards.

Cage size and design

Savannah monitors are active lizards. Adults require very large enclosures (i.e. 6 x 3 x 6 feet or 1.8 x 0.9 x 1.8 m) so custom-built cages are often necessary.

The enclosure should have a secure, locking lid and be made of non-toxic materials. Avoid using aquariums as they do not provide adequate ventilation.

Savannah monitors are excellent climbers and diggers, so the enclosure should be tall enough to accommodate climbing branches and deep enough for substrate to allow for burrowing.

A basking area with a heat lamp should be provided at one end of the enclosure, with a cooler area at the other end to allow for thermoregulation.


Proper heating is a critical component in the care of your Savannah monitor, allowing efficient metabolism, appropriate growth, and proper immune system function.

These lizards thermoregulate themselves based on body needs and require a temperature gradient on both a horizontal and vertical plane.

Combine an undertank-heating pad (on the warm side) with a spotlight or white incandescent bulb in the basking area to achieve the correct temperature gradient.

Avoid electric reptile “hot rocks” as these can be associated with serious burns. Strive for 85-90°F (29-32°C) with a basking area that reaches 94-100°F (34-38°C).

Place thermometers on the cool side of the cage, the warm side, and near the basking area to monitor temperature. Temperature should drop to 74-78°F (23-26°C) at night.

Use a nocturnal reptile bulb or red light if nighttime temperatures drop too low so as not to disturb your monitor’s sleeping patterns.


Strive for 40-50% relative humidity, which may be achieved by lightly misting the cage.

To create a moist hide, you can use a container filled with damp substrate, such as sphagnum moss or coconut coir.

Ensure that the hide is spacious enough for your monitor to comfortably enter and exit. This allows your pet to regulate its humidity levels naturally.

Lighting and UVB

In addition to heat lamps, providing UVB lighting is crucial for Savannah Monitors. UVB light helps these lizards synthesize vitamin D3, which is essential for calcium absorption and overall health.

Place UVB bulbs over the basking area and ensure they emit UVB radiation in the 290-320 nm wavelength range. Replace these bulbs as recommended by the manufacturer since their UVB output diminishes over time.


The substrate in your monitor’s enclosure plays a significant role in maintaining humidity and providing a suitable environment.

Options such as coconut fiber, cypress mulch, or a mixture of soil and sand work well.

These substrates can retain moisture without becoming excessively damp, helping to create a comfortable habitat for your pet.

Taming and Handling

Savannah Monitors can be tamed and become more manageable with time and patience.

However, they are intelligent and active lizards, and they can be unpredictable, especially when young.

It is important to exercise caution when handling them, especially when they are hungry, as they may mistake moving fingers for prey. Gradual and gentle socialization is key to building trust.

Costs and Maintenance

Owning a Savannah Monitor involves initial setup costs for a large enclosure, heating and lighting equipment, and other supplies.

Ongoing expenses include food, substrate, and veterinary care. Regular maintenance includes cleaning the enclosure and monitoring temperature and humidity levels.

Comparison to Other Species

Savannah Monitors are among the more easily tamed monitor lizards and are suitable for reptile enthusiasts seeking a captivating and manageable pet.

They are generally more docile and easier to tame than other monitor lizard species, such as the Nile Monitor. However, they are still large lizards with specific care requirements, so it is important to do your research before acquiring one.

If you are looking for a more beginner-friendly option, choose an Ackie monitor.

Alternatively, look into tegu lizards (which are not a type of monitor lizard, but look very similar).

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