African Savannah Monitor

(Varanus exanthematicus albigularis)


African Savannah Monitor IUCN NOT EVALUATED (NE)


Facts about this animal

While the average total length is between 85 and 100 cm, it can reach up to 130 cm with a head-body length of app. 55cm. The weight is 5 to 6 kg. V. exanthematicus is a thick, stockily proportioned monitor with a wide head, short neck and tail. The tail tapers and has a double toothed crest. The basic colour is grey to a light yellow. The head has often light yellow markings. There are symmetrical rows of circular, dark edged yellow spots across the animal's back. The tail has alternating brown and yellowish rings. The belly and the inside of the limbs is yellowish-grey or gray to brown in color. The tongue of V. exanthematicus is snake-like (forked) and blue. This lizard can be found in burrows but also in trees, since it isa good climber. They are able to dig the burrows themselves but they also claim abandoned burrows that have originally been dug by mammals. If hollows in trees are available they are also accepted. Savannah monitors have also been found in termite mounds. Males are very territorial and will defend their territory very aggressively. When a male finds a mate he will follow her around relentlessly. Mating is initiated by a courtship diplay including head nodding by the male and occasionally biting and scratching the neck and legs of the female. The breeding season is the same as the feasting period, namely the wet season. The copulation can last for several hours. About four weeks after mating the female lays from 10 to over 50 eggs. The female will dig a nest that is 15-30 cm deep herself. Some females however will lay their eggs in termite mounds. At an incubation temperature between 29 and 30°C the young hatch after five to six months, i.e. usually in march. When hatching the head-body length is app. 70 mm, the total length about 130 mm and the weight on the average 20 g. The eggs of V. exanthematicus have an unusually high hatch rate of 100 % About 4 weeks after hatching the small monitors start catching food. Juvenile V. exanthematicus are mainly insectivores because they lack the teeth to eat snails. Adult monitors eat a variety of food items, like arthropods (in particular beetles, centipedes, millibedes, scorpions), ground-dwelling birds, small mammaly, reptiles, toads, eggs and carrion, small mammals, birds, snakes, toads, lizards, and eggs. Many adults also consume large quantities of snails. Full grown V. exanthematicus have teeth that are quite blunt to help them crack and eat snails. The jaw has evolved to put maximum leverage at the back of the jaw to crush snail shells

Did you know?
Varanus exanthematicus feeding habits revolve around the weather. They use a feast and fast system. They feast during the wet season when food is plentiful and easy to find. This wet season lasts for about eight months, during which V. exanthematicus can consume up to one tenth of its own body weight in a single day. During the dry season they then live off the fat reserves they built up over the “feast season”.Savannah monitors have evolved a way to eat poisonous millipeds: The lizard rubs its chin on the millipede for up to fifteen minutes before eating it. It is believed to do this to make the millipede excrete the distasteful fluid in its defense and then it will eat it when the supply of this fluid is exhausted.


Name (Scientific) Varanus exanthematicus albigularis
Name (English) African Savannah Monitor
Name (French) Varan des savanes
Name (German) Steppenvaran
Name (Spanish) Varano de sabana
CITES Status Appendix II
CMS Status Not listed



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Range Benin , Burkina Faso , Cameroon , Central African Republic , Chad , Congo , Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo , Eritrea , Ethiopia , Gabon , Gambia , Ghana , Guinea , Guinea-Bissau , Kenya , Liberia , Mali , Mauretania , Niger , Nigeria , Senegal , Sierra Leone , Sudan , Togo , Uganda and Zaire.
Habitat Steppes, savannahs and arid regions such as rocky dessert type areas, open forests and woodlands, often near permanent water bodies but also in areas where surface water is absent. They are not found in the rainforest or in true deserts.
Wild population Unknown
Zoo population 68 reported to ISIS (2008)

In the Zoo

African Savannah Monitor


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 41 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Mark Mumme

Why do zoos keep this animal

Zoos keep the African Savannah Monitor primarily for educational reasons. This fairly large monitor is an attractive representative of the African herpetofauna, which is an interesting component of any African savanna or aridland display. It is also of interest to compare this species with Varanus niloticus, which is adapted to wetter habitats.