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Hey All,

I saw MM's post earlier and the call for a Bosc's/Savannah care sheet. I worked this one up a couple months ago, so thought Id throw it here and see what you all thought. As always, I hope for your comments on what can be improved as this is something I send new owners when they ask for one. As there are many more experienced people than I, your comments will be invaluable.



The Bosc’s or savannah monitor, Varanus exanthematicus, is a medium sized monitor from West Africa. They generally reach about 3-4 feet when adults, depending on gender, genetics and nutritional upbringing. Most specimens are imported from a specific region in Ghana, near Accra. It is estimated that somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200,000 of these animals are exported each year for the pet trade, 99% of which will die in the first year of life due to poor husbandry. Contrary to what you may have been told by the pet store, nearly all animals sold in the pet trade are imported from the wild. There were two breeders in North America previously, but only one is presently attempting to breed them for sale right now. There are a slightly higher number of breeders in Europe, but the economics of the trade do not lend themselves well to breeding for sale.

These are beautiful, intelligent creatures that are not a beginner pet. The tiny little lizard that runs around in that small fish tank in the pet store will grow to adulthood in about 10 to 18 months. They take very specific requirements and a large commitment from owners regarding both time and money. If you are looking for a medium sized, easily cared for lizard, please consider getting a bearded dragon instead.

Due to the hearty nature of these creatures, there is a good deal of inaccurate information out there regarding their care and husbandry. Under terrible conditions these animals can still live for a year, and under poor conditions they can live up to five years even. As a result, there are many keepers who do not know they are slowly damaging their animals internally. These animals can live upwards of 20 years or more, with the possibility that they could reach as much as 40. The rarity of this in captivity is a good sign that there is still much to learn about their care. However, there are some good guidelines to go by presently.

Before you buy this animal, be aware that they require a custom cage that is very large. A good rule of thumb for monitors is that the cage be twice as long as the adult will be and at least as wide as the adult will be. In other words, an adult will reach 3-4 feet in length, so your custom cage should be a MINIMUM of 6-8 feet long, 3-4 feet wide and 4 feet high. This is the minimum, and if possible, the larger it is the better it will be for your lizard. They are very intelligent animals, and stuck in a tiny cage can become bored, fat and lazy.

It is usually cheapest and easiest to use wood for your enclosure, though other materials can be used. The walls can be made with ½” or thicker plywood that is supported by a framework of 2x4s or 2x6s. The bottom part of the enclosure will require these supports every 12-16 inches due to the large amount of substrate that is necessary. Using a glazed house window, or shower door turned on its side are both good options for the front as they come with their own hardware already and are easy to install. You can have glass sliding doors cut to your size requirements, but this is more difficult to build and will not hold heat and humidity as well. When completed, this enclosure will literally weigh as much, if not more, than your car. Keep this in mind when choosing its location. Make sure the floor where you are building it is able to hold this additional weight.

The reason for that 4 feet in height is due to the substrate. These animals come from the coastal grasslands of Ghana, and are absolutely not desert dwellers. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, there only acceptable substrate for these animals is a deep mixture of sand and soil. The sandy soil is good for holding a burrow, which is where these animals are able to regulate their temperature and hydration levels. In the wild, they live in these deep burrows, some going down over two feet. Not providing them with a deep burrowable substrate will, over time, lead to dehydration and an unhealthy animal. The substrate also allows them a good form of exercise, as a healthy animal will spend much of its day digging.

If you have an area outside that you are sure is free of any pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, then feel free to make use of that source for substrate. That will be an already bioactive soil, which is your goal. If you must buy soil, make sure it is organic soil with no unnatural fertilizers and no vermiculite or perlite. The best kinds I have found are ones that use worm castings as fertilizer. You can mix that about half and half with children’s play sand, though some people say a 60:40 mix of soil to sand is better. Either way, the sand is important, as it is there to help the soil hold a burrow. The sand content must be high or the monitor will not bother to dig in it. If you find that your monitor is not digging, play around with this ratio until you find what is acceptable to your monitor.

It’s also good to include some cage furnishings for your monitor. A large section of a log or large branch for them to climb will be much used, especially in younger animals. Often in the wild they can be found up a tree to escape predation, and they are agile climbers. Also add a few hides and two containers of water. Often, especially with dehydrated monitors, they will make use of a water dish as a toilet. As a result having two water dishes means there will always be a fresh water source to drink from.

You can put live plants, grass or moss in the enclosure, but be prepared for your little digger to destroy them as well. When healthy adults, they can tear up the entire area in the enclosure in a few short hours as they forage for food. I put my plants up high where they cant get dug up, or you can also place some rocks or other unmovable objects right around the base of the plant to keep them from being dug up right away. I personally feel like live plants are always a good idea as there is good air transfer for your lizard.

Which brings up the next point, that of humidity and a sealed environment. Again, these are not desert animals; they come from a very warm, but humid environment. Feel free to look online for the weather in the area around Accra, Ghana. The normal humidity range is around 65-85%, depending on season and time of day. It is best to keep to this range within your enclosure. This is hard to do if you do not have a sealed enclosure, so make sure to seal all corners, joints, etc when you are building your enclosure. You can use either silicone or hot glue. Due to this humidity level, it is also necessary to either make the inside of your enclosure from waterproof materials or to seal them with a waterproof paint or polyurethane. When you have done all this, let the empty enclosure air out for about three weeks so that all the harmful fumes and odours are gone before introducing your substrate and lizard.

Dehydration is one of the biggest issues with savannah monitors, so this is one of the key points in their husbandry. Giving it a soak in the tub will not solve this problem; this is something that must be addressed in the enclosure. Two feet of substrate may seem excessive until you try regulating this high humidity level. With two feet of sandy soil, and a sealed habitat, you will find that you may only need to spray the enclosure once a week or even less to keep those humidity levels. If the enclosure isn’t sealed, or only has a few inches of soil, you will have a very difficult time keeping those humidity levels, and therefore keeping your monitor well hydrated.

Heating the enclosure is also easier in a sealed environment. The best way to heat the enclosure is by simply providing them with a proper basking spot. The best basking spot is created by providing two or three low wattage (40-50 watts) spotlights in a row, so that your entire animal can reach the target basking temperature of 130-150 degrees F. One high-powered bulb is not going to achieve this, as that will only heat up a small circle or area directly under it. Also, high powered bulbs have a tendency to dry things out more quickly, which is not good, so keep to the lower 40-50 watt types.

These high temperatures are essential for digestion and proper metabolism in a savannah monitor. Lower temperatures can lead to many problems including impactions, indigestion and regurgitation due to undigested food. Do not worry if your monitor is not spending hours under the basking light, that is a good sign. A healthy monitor will bask for short periods of time and then become active. If your monitor just sits directly under the basking spot all day long, you should check all your temperature and humidity levels and start to look for problems.

Adjust the height of the bulb to get the desired basking temperatures, but it is usually about 12-18 inches off the ground. Do not put any hood or grating around the bulbs as they will climb this and can then burn themselves. The exposed bulb is actually safer as they cannot climb the slick glass of the bulb and therefore will not burn themselves.

The ambient temperature of the rest of the enclosure should be around the mid 80s during the day and then drop to the high 70s at night. It is also important to check the temperature of the substrate underground to ensure that it is not getting any lower than about 75 degrees. This is especially important if you have a female savannah. Again, like with the sand/soil ratio of the substrate, if you do not provide a proper temperature for the substrate, the monitor will not bother to dig burrows. I say this is especially important for females, as they will still produce eggs without the presence of a male. Without a proper substrate for her to lay eggs in, they may retain their eggs and die as a result.

There are also a growing number of keepers who have their basking lights on all day and night long. As the monitor will usually retire to the burrow for rest and sleep at night, this seems like it would cause no harm. On the contrary, it allows them to chose when they bask or need further warming and this seems like a positive thing. It also allows the temperature of the substrate to remain constant, which is often beneficial for those living in climates where night time room temperatures drop significantly. With all husbandry in monitors, it is best to offer a range of time, temperature, humidity, etc and allow the monitor to chose what is best.

CONTINUED IN THE NEXT POST...
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
CONTINUED FROM ABOVE...


It is good to purchase a couple pieces of equipment to measure the heat and humidity of the cage. First, purchase a infrared temperature gun. They are inexpensive and usually go for around $15-25. This is an infrared device that you point at an object to get the surface temperature reading immediately. It is invaluable in discovering the surface temperature of the basking area and other points around the cage. The other key piece of equipment is an accurate hygrometer. Place the sensor inside the cage about two inches above ground level, but make sure it is not under the basking spot. That will give you the humidity of the area the monitor is spending most of its time, when not basking or in its burrow. The basking area will be a much lower humidity level naturally, due to the high heat. With these two pieces of equipment, like many things, you get what you pay for. Amazon can be a good place to search, as you will be able to see customer reviews on their accuracy and durability.

And now to the controversial stuff! The diet of savannah monitors has a few very controversial elements to it, but some very common threads too. First and foremost feed whole prey food items. Feed it things that still have their heads, organs, guts, bones, and all those other wonderful parts of the body that are filled with vitamins and minerals. Some of the most nutritious parts of an animal are its kidneys, liver, and other organs, but again, this does not mean that you should just feed those parts alone either.

In the studies that have been done in the wild, they are shown to be largely insectivorous. They eat other invertebrates like molluscs, and in certain select regions it seems that they may also eat vertebrate prey as well. This is not to say that you must absolutely replicate a wild diet. I do not feel that is the case, however I do feel it should be our goal as keepers to get as close as we can. As such, I recommend a diet of mostly invertebrates, with the occasional vertebrate prey. Acceptable prey items include roaches, beetles, crickets, earthworms, snails, crayfish, hornworms, locusts, mealworms, butterworms, small fertilized eggs (like whole quail eggs with a chick inside) and the occasional anole or mouse.

I say occasional vertebrate prey and herein lay the greatest debate in savannah monitor husbandry – the feeding of rodents. One side of the debate states that, if properly supported with high heat and humidity, they can easily process rodents and indeed need the extra calories and nutrition. The other side states that rodents are too high in fats, and contain too many of the bad kind of fats for savannah monitors (rodents are high in saturated fats, while invertebrates are high in unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) I have encountered keepers who have kept animals successfully on both a diet of exclusively invertebrates and also a mix of rodents and invertebrates. So far in my surveys I have never encountered a savannah monitor older than 15 years that was fed exclusively rodents. Contrary to common thought, 15 years is not old age for a monitor; some species are known to live to over 40. As such I will take no side here and merely state that it does not seem advisable to feed exclusively rodents to this particular species of monitor. Other food items give a similar caloric and vitamin/mineral rich content without the possible difficulty of a rodent diet.

Some other things people commonly, and incorrectly, suggest is ground turkey, chicken parts and chicken eggs from the grocery store. The suggestion of the ground turkey as part of their diet is largely due to what is called the SDZ diet, or San Diego Zoo diet. This is a diet that was developed for a different group of monitors however, and is not very applicable to savannahs. Savannah monitors do not eat carrion, and this is an important difference between them and the monitors that diet was developed for. Chicken parts, as well as ground turkey, again fall into that category of a non whole-food prey item, and as such are not nutritionally sufficient either. Remember, only feed your savannah prey items with all their body parts intact. Chicken eggs, especially battery farmed ones like you normally buy in the store, are not particularly good for your savannah. I do not think it will be extremely harmful if given as an occasional treat, but there are so many other, better food sources that I can’t imagine why anyone would use them.

Do not, under any conditions, feed your monitor any kind of dog or cat food. These foods are barely fit for the animals they were supposedly designed for (dogs and cats) so you can imagine how less nutritious they are for your monitor. The next time someone tells you to feed your monitor dog or cat food, politely nod your head and then walk away. This is a sure sign they have done very little research and have very little knowledge of nutrition.

Almost as important as what you feed your monitor is what you feed to those feeder prey. Do not expect that because you buy only crickets and mealworms from the pet store that your monitor is now healthy. Most of the pet store insects you buy are malnourished and dehydrated. They are often left with a slice of potato or orange and nothing else. That is why you hear about them attacking some unsuspecting lizard if left in a tank overnight. Insects are as nutritious as you make them, to a certain extent. As such, make them as nutritious as you can. Give them fresh, nutritious vegetables, and a good dry mix of things like alfalfa pellets, oats, barley, whole grain corn meal and whole grain wheat. Mix in calcium carbonate with that dry mix and you will have a healthy breeding feeder that is also a nutritious meal for you savannah.

Once again, I feel it important to state that you should not feed your feeders, especially roaches, dog or cat food. I know it’s easy to do that, but it is not good for your reptiles to eat feeders that have eaten dog or cat food, especially roaches. Roaches are strange little creatures that are used to poor protein diets. They are omnivores, but in nature normally eat almost exclusively plant matter. As a result, they have the ability to synthesize the protein they need from acids stored in their blood. In those instances where they find high amounts of protein, they end up storing that protein in the form of uric acid. This is okay in the wild as there isn’t a constant source of high protein for them. However, if you’re feeding them dog or cat food constantly, that means they are storing higher and higher levels of uric acid in their blood. The fact that people feed them dry dog or cat food is about the only thing keeping the roaches from dying. They can’t eat the hard, dry food as fast. If fed wet dog or cat food, then dead roaches can be expected. They will eat the high protein wet food so quickly and exclusively that the uric acid builds up to the point that it crystalizes in their joints and organs.

The reason this is bad for your reptile is probably already clear. High amounts of uric acid are something that leads to dehydration and ultimately gout over long periods of time. If you are feeding a lot of these high uric acid roaches, you are giving your animal a food source that may likely dehydrate them and cause stress to their kidney and liver. This is not to say that it will kill them, but it will stress their organs and immune system, leaving them susceptible to other problems that would normally not be a problem for a healthy animal.

This brings up the point of your monitors internal health. Getting a fecal sample analyzed is relatively cheap and non invasive to your monitor. This will allow you to check for many parasites that are common with these imported animals. (Yes, you have an imported animal, unless your breeder has pictures of the eggs hatching) Parasites are common and are not normally a problem with a healthy animal. However, if your monitor becomes stressed or sick, which happens on transport, then the parasites can flourish and become a real health risk. As such, it is always good to get at least a fecal sample done and have any known parasites removed. If you are able to also have a blood test done, this is ideal, but more costly.

Once you have your animal in its new, wonderful home then leave it alone! You now have an amazing animal that is very stressed out. It’s tempting to want to pick it up all the time, but this will make it worse. People often say that they have a tame monitor when they pick it up and it closes its eyes, or goes to sleep. This is actually a high stress response; the animal is closing its eyes because it is incredibly frightened. You are a big predator as far as it is concerned. Do not pick the animal up or mess with it for at least two to four weeks so that it can get used to its new home and feel more secure again.

After that point you can start to work with it during feeding times. It is important to never rush in and grab your monitor or pick it up forcefully. These are aggressive actions and will be interpreted as such. The old saying, “you catch more flies with honey” is a good one here. If you find that your monitor has a favourite kind of food, use this ‘treat’ to motivate the animal to come to you. Using a pair of rounded salad tongs, or rounded metal forceps, wave the treat in front of the monitor. Hold your other hand open on the ground. Once the monitor is aware of the treat, try coaxing it closer to you, moving the treat closer and closer until the monitor follows it onto your open hand. This may take many attempts as the young ones especially are very shy at first. Do not get discouraged, as this may take awhile. Eventually the monitor will come to see you as a source of its favourite food, and not a predator. Once you have motivated it onto your hand you can let it climb your arm. It should get used to you in this way and build a bond with you that will lead to you being able to touch it and then actually hold it without stress.

What all this boils down to is that before purchasing one of these beautiful, intelligent animals you must be prepared. They require a very real commitment as regards time, money and space. Can you provide that large of an enclosure? Can you afford the money to build that cage and continue feeding such a large, voracious lizard? Will you spend the time it takes to do all this and also slowly allow for the trust necessary to tame it? If any of the answers is no, then please reconsider. That cute little baby will become a huge beast in about only a year’s time. And what an awesome creature he or she will be if you are willing to do what it takes to keep them happy and healthy!

Please don’t stop reading more and more about your new animal. There is new research everyday, and many things beyond the scope of this beginner’s care sheet. Generally the best book on Bosc’s (savannah) monitors is called The Truth About Savannah Monitor Lizards by Daniel Bennett and Ravi Thakoordyal. It can be purchased as an ebook for only $5 here: The Truth about Savannah Monitor Lizards - Viper Press Books - Muncom

Or you can visit Wayne Harvey’s excellent website full of amazing videos and other useful information here: Savannah Monitors
 

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Now this is the dog's danglies of care sheets :no1:

Definitely a must for any would be keeper and current keepers as well :no1:
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Now this is the dog's danglies of care sheets :no1:

Definitely a must for any would be keeper and current keepers as well :no1:
Ah I miss living in the UK sometimes! Dogs danglies?! That made me nearly shoot beer out my nose.

Thanks though, from you guys I consider that high praise indeed. :notworthy:
 

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All great info, although a bit "wall of text" like.
The trouble I see is this care sheet will be mixed in with the others here, that offer bad or out dated info. How is a newbie going to know to read this one over another?

This 1 here is on page 1 of the lizards care sheet forum!! I think it should be archived as old or something to avoid any confusion.
http://www.reptileforums.co.uk/forums/lizard-care-sheets/6970-bosc-monitor-care-sheet.html
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
All great info, although a bit "wall of text" like.
The trouble I see is this care sheet will be mixed in with the others here, that offer bad or out dated info. How is a newbie going to know to read this one over another?

This 1 here is on page 1 of the lizards care sheet forum!! I think it should be archived as old or something to avoid any confusion.
http://www.reptileforums.co.uk/forums/lizard-care-sheets/6970-bosc-monitor-care-sheet.html
Ya, I was worried it was a bit much, but I already felt like I left some things like UV light and cleaning stuff out of it. I will try to go through again and reduce it a bit.

That old one should be taken down, yes. Wow, Im not sure whether to hope mine is as outdated in 6 years or not. Id love for us to learn that much more about their husbandry!
 

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All great info, although a bit "wall of text" like.
The trouble I see is this care sheet will be mixed in with the others here, that offer bad or out dated info. How is a newbie going to know to read this one over another?

This 1 here is on page 1 of the lizards care sheet forum!! I think it should be archived as old or something to avoid any confusion.
http://www.reptileforums.co.uk/forums/lizard-care-sheets/6970-bosc-monitor-care-sheet.html
Ya, I was worried it was a bit much, but I already felt like I left some things like UV light and cleaning stuff out of it. I will try to go through again and reduce it a bit.

That old one should be taken down, yes. Wow, Im not sure whether to hope mine is as outdated in 6 years or not. Id love for us to learn that much more about their husbandry!
Yes agreed this would be a very good sticky on the caresheet section :2thumb:
 
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All great info, although a bit "wall of text" like.
The trouble I see is this care sheet will be mixed in with the others here, that offer bad or out dated info. How is a newbie going to know to read this one over another?

This 1 here is on page 1 of the lizards care sheet forum!! I think it should be archived as old or something to avoid any confusion.
http://www.reptileforums.co.uk/forums/lizard-care-sheets/6970-bosc-monitor-care-sheet.html
In lizard sticky thread though there is this:
http://www.reptileforums.co.uk/forums/lizards/119922-so-want-sav.html
Still a great care sheet, but I feel now that it has been moved into a sub section of the lizards forums it has been forgotten.
To be honest the stickies on the lizard section was getting ridiculous, and had nearly a full page.
Perhaps this, Jarich's and .....' so you want a sav' should be championed into the lizard care section????

And hopefully, if us as fanatical keepers, keep the M&T thread alive and well, newbies may tip there head in everynow and then for some advice??
 

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I have been reading a lot of caresheets as i would eventually like to get a monitor in a ayear or 2 and i can honestly say that one is one of the best i have come across. :)
 
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks for the praise guys, I do appreciate it. I would feel pretty honoured to have a sticky up here. Love this forum.
 

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Thanks for the praise guys, I do appreciate it. I would feel pretty honoured to have a sticky up here. Love this forum.
Jarich this is great! I also have read tons and tons of care sheets, and I agree with everything on it!

My roaches get a nice healthy mix of foods and there are lots more that I agree with!

Only thing that I noticed is that there is nothing about UVB in it.... I believe that if an animal is exposed to UV in the wild then it is a requirement in captivity.... Long and short of it!
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Ya, I provide it with mine as well. As mentioned above, its already a pretty hefty article and I didnt want to overdo it (though it might already have passed that point;) I figured as I dont know whether it is absolutely necessary or not its one of those things I would leave out.
 

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Cracking work jarich...


going on the monitor faq :no1:
 
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Thanks for the praise guys, I do appreciate it. I would feel pretty honoured to have a sticky up here. Love this forum.
I'd like to publish that on my site for you, it's that good.
 

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Write to [email protected] and ask for the "Rearing Baby Bosc's" information leaflet.

It is an excellent document supplied as a .pdf file....

The authors are from the British Herpetological Society Education Committee.
Will do, I like comparing notes.
 
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