Savannah monitors are larger pet lizards that are known to be some of the more docile lizards of the monitor group. They aren’t really active lizards but usually tolerate handling quite well.
Being native to Africa, savannah monitors were historically kept in dry, hot environments in captivity which were thought to correctly mimic their natural habitats. But more recently monitor owners are seeing better results by providing more humidity and areas to burrow, just like the native grasslands of Ghana offer.
They spend most of their time in the wild grasslands of Africa basking in the sun, burrowing in the soil, and eating a variety of small prey food such as rodents, smaller lizards, and insects. They are carnivores and prone to obesity, therefore it is vital to monitor the weight of your savannah monitor to prevent excess weight gain. Feeding juveniles a few times a week is fine but adult savannahs may only need to eat once a week.
Savannah monitors will grow to be about 3 to 4 feet long. Regular handling will make them tamer but like all monitors, if they are not a captive bred baby or are not handled often savannah monitors can become aggressive.
Savannahs are strong, large, escape artists. A large, secure enclosure is necessary to house any savannah monitor. A full grown savannah needs a minimum of an 8 feet by 4 feet enclosure, or twice the length of the monitor. A juvenile (young) savannah will be alright in a 55-gallon aquarium for short period of time but since they grow quickly most owners have their adult set-up ready when they bring home a baby.
The height of the enclosure should prevent them from escaping and allow a branch or other decoration in the cage in the off chance that they want to climb on something. Monitors can be destructive so other than some rocks and hides decorations aren't necessary. A large water dish that will allow the entire monitor to submerge himself should be in the cage as well.
A large cat litter box is a popular alternative to reptile dishes sold at the pet store. They usually defecate in their water dishes so make sure it stays clean.
Screen sided enclosures will be shredded so glass or plexiglass housing is best. Make sure the cage has a secure lock and a place for heat lights and UVB lighting on top.
Provide a good soil and sand mixture for them to burrow in (a recommended 24 inches of the soil and sand mixture for a full grown savannah) as well.
Heat and Lighting
Warm temperature of 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit and a basking spot between 110-130 degrees (but sometimes even higher according to some herp owners) should be provided along with a temperature gradient down to 85 in the day and as low as 75 at night. Ceramic heat emitters are best for achieving night-time temperatures instead of lights.
UVB lighting is necessary for almost all lizards. A high percentage UVB output bulb (8-10%) should be on for a 10-12 hour cycle daily to mimic the sun. These bulbs should be changed every 6 months, even if the light doesn't burn out since the invisible UVB rays expire. Diseases such as metabolic bone disease will occur without appropriate UVB rays.
A hygrometer should be visible to properly monitor humidity in the enclosure.
Provide a gradient in the soil of almost 100% humidity and try to keep it above 60% in the coolest part of the cage. It is ok to have a lower hygrometer reading in the basking area (even 0% is alright if you have a good gradient in the other part of the enclosure).
Feeding Savannah Monitors
As with any exotic pet, the more natural a diet, the better. Savannahs will eat gut loaded insects such as crickets, roaches, and earthworms along with appropriately sized rodents. Pinky mice, fuzzies, adult mice, and various sized rats are the usual fare in captivity. Calcium powder should be dusted onto insects and young rodents that don't have good bone density. A low fat, high quality (grain-free) canned dog or monitor food can be fed only occasionally as too much protein can lead to disease like gout.
Savannah monitors can be voracious eaters. Therefore if they have bedding that is bite sized they may get a mouth full when trying to grab their food. If your savannah will be enjoying his dinner on his bedding, choose a bedding that won't cause an impaction. A more natural bedding that they can burrow in is best.
Paper towels, butcher paper, towels, repti-carpet, felt and other easily cleaned and changed, flat bedding options are best for messy savannahs. If you prefer a more natural look go for small substrate like calcium sand that is semi-digestible in very small amounts, or just don't feed your savannah on his bedding (use a separate tank to feed to keep his enclosure clean).
The area set aside for burrowing (with the soil/sand mix) should not be used for feeding.