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Nile monitor, Varanus niloticus


Introduction Nile monitors are native to Africa south of the Sarhara. They are one of the largest of all monitors. Most average between 6 and 7 feet. They can weigh in excess of 50 lbs. In the wild, they can be observed basking in the morning hours on river and pond banks, reaching body temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They hunt for small vertebrates and invertebrates in the water and on the land. They are also known to consume carrion and are notorious for raiding crocodile nests in search of their eggs

Acclimation and Quarantine Quarantine or acclimation enclosures need not be elaborate, instead they should be sterile and easy to clean. Plastic storage bins are often used for such enclosures as they are easy to clean, come in a variety of sizes, and most provide the security needed for a freshly acquired Nile monitor. Paper towels, newspapers, or other easily cleaned materials may be used as the substrate. A hide box should be provided for additional security. A shallow ceramic water dish should be used as the water bowl as they ten to tip over anything plastic. Excessive spilt water in a plastic enclosure can lead to many ailments. This setup should be used until the monitor is feeding regularly and appears to be in good health.

Housing While it is more than possible to keep a baby Nile in a twenty gallon tank for a short time, it will out grow it with in a few short months. A single adult can be kept in an enclosure with a minimum foot print of 4 ft x 6 ft along. For adults, water and feed trophs used by farmers are very applicable. They are made with plastics or metals and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A lid can be constructed with a wooden frame and covered in hardware mesh. Enclosures can also be made from plywood and plexiglass. For baby and juvinal Niles, you may choose to decorate the tank. You can do this using some artifical plants, cork rounds, branchs and stone. Monitors are very inquisitive of their surroundings and will investigate every square inch of the habitat you provide them. They will also rearrange it to their liking. For that reason, most people opt to provide the basics; water dish, hide box, and a few decorative items such as a large piece of wood or a large stone. Some branches for climbing can also be provided. Be sure that any heavy item is not capable of falling on your monitor as they climb on it and dig around and perhaps below it. For substrate, soil, mulch, ground coconut, and sphagnum moss are all acceptable. I prefer to use a mixture of sphagnum peat moss, and cypress mulch.

Lighting and Heating Provide a basking spot for Nile Monitor that is between 100 - 125 degrees F, as they need to get their bodies around 105 degrees to digest their food. Niles also need an area to cool down when they get too warm. The opposite end of the tank should be 75-85 degrees. Night time temps should not be allowed to drop below 65 degrees. The use of mounted thermometers and infrared temp guns will ensure that you have achieved the proper temperature gradients. Niles should receive UVB exposure from a quality light! Niles synthesize vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB, Vitamin D3 is necessary for calcium to be metabolized. Animals that are not exposed to UVB can develop Metabolic Bone Disease. If MBD isn't treated in a timely fashion, skeletal deformities, kidney failure, seizures, and eventually death will occur.

Feeding Nile Monitors will thrive on a diet that is well varied and containing whole food items. Whole food items are animals which have not been prepared, processed, cleaned, gutted etc. but rather are offered to your lizard as they were in life; whole. Readily available whole food items include rodents, poultry, fish, crustaceans, insects. Rodents consist of mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits. Poultry may consist of chicks and quail. To cover the fish you can offer trout, catfish and other freshwater fish. Crawfish and fresh water crabs can be provided on occasion. And for insects, you may offer crickets, meal and super meal worms, silkworms, horn worms, and roaches. Many monitor keepers have been "turned onto" a prepared diet developed by zoological institutes. This diet consists of ground turkey, bone-meal, eggs and vitamins. While this diet has the ability to fill the void in a strict budget diet, and capable of producing a lot of food and can feed a large collection, it is not complete a diet. Another food item to beware of is eggs. Non-Fertilized eggs fed to your monitor may lead to Vitamin B4 deficiencies. B4 deficiencies may lead to muscular problems, seizures and tremors of the limbs. If you decide to include eggs in your monitors diet, be sure to cook the eggs. A strict rodent diet is not recommend either, as such a high fat diet will defiantly lead to an obese lizard. As it is, most people love to feed their monitors. Rodents are like the McDonalds of the monitor culture ( you've seen Super Size Me, haven't you?) For prepared diets such as the turkey diet, I like to put some finely chopped vegetables into the mix as well. What ever diet you choose for your monitor is up to you. Remember that variety is the spice of life. Think of whole food items as a gut loaded cricket; literally, as it should still have it's guts. The addition of a quality vitamin/calcium supplement if very important. We use and recommend Nekton Rep.

Water The Nile monitor is tied closely to water and this should be taken into consideration in your pet's enclosure design. A small specimen can be kept with a ceramic water dish, as can a juvenal up to several feet. However a large adult needs a large dish and this can be a some what dirty task as they will often defecate in their water dish... trying to empty a water crock of several gallons of water and feces is not enjoyable. I would recommend for larger monitors to incorporate a drainable water basin that is easy to drain and sterilize. Another approach is to offer a water dish that is only large enough for the monitor to drink from. If you decide to take this approach you should soak your monitor in the bath tub atleast once a week to ensure proper hydration, to aid in shedding and to keep the monitors skin clean of substrate and any waste they may have crawled thru.

A note on biological warfare Any seasoned Monitor keeper can attest to this, so this is for the new hobbyist interested in getting their first monitor. Beware of the business end. Not the first end, butt rather the second (pun intended). Wild caught, long term captive, juveniles... it does not matter. Monitors have developed a rather putrid style of self-defense that will cause even the most determined person to think twice about trying to handle their monitor. This self-defense is projectile cloacal evacuation, aka projectile diherrea. Now keep in mind that these lizards consume a carnivorous diet, so you can imagine what some of this might be like that is in mid digestion. Whatever your thinking at this moment about that statement is probably a better image than I can put in writing. I do however have an amusing story to share. About 12 years ago, I was working at a retail store that had a nice selection of adult Savannah Monitors. These lizards were well fed. One really busy day, I had a rather rude customer push his way to the front of the line because he was "in a rush" to get home to meet a very important guest. Apparently he had a dinner planned with a local politician and wanted to have an impressive center piece or conversation piece. Being that the Savannah Monitors were the largest, most impressive animal we had, he was drawn to them. He asked me to get out the largest one we had so he could ensure he was buying a healthy, quality animal. As I removed the recently gorged reptile from it's enclosure I instructed the gentleman to hold the lizard horizontally and support it's entire body. Instead, he grasped the animal by it's neck and proceeded to hold it vertically in front of him so he could inspect it's belly. Keep in mind that this customer was having an important dinner with an important person, so as one can imagine, he was dressed the part; suit, tie, dress pant, dress shoes. About the time that I was ready to worn him to aim that thing away from himself, he raised the monitor's body so that the vent of the monitor was level with his neck. Before I could warn him, the monitor declared war and unleashed a full meal directly onto the neck of the customer. He immediately tossed the lizard back into it's cage, gagged, gagged some more, puked and stomped/ran out of the store in an emotion I have never witnessed in a human. As he was leaving, he could be heard saying "It's running down my chest... oh god, it's in my shoes." With that story shared, may I recommend that you learn from someone else's (his) mistakes. Before you are ready to handle a monitor for an allotted period of time, you should allow the monitor to soak in a lukewarm bath. This will hopefully cause him to release his bowels in the tub rather than being locked, cocked and ready to rock in a public place (or any place for that matter). After you are content that your monitor's bowels are empty, remember to give him a quick rinse.

These animals do NOT make good pets Monitors have extremely powerful bites and are likely to harbor numerous types of nasty bacteria. This combined with a Nile monitor's aggressive attitude and reluctancy to tame well makes them unsuitable for most people except those that are well experienced with large aggressive reptiles. While the bite of a baby or a juvenile will be painful and unpleasant, in the end, mainly your pride will be hurt. Adults are a different story however and are very capable of inflicting serious wounds that may include but are not limited to serious lacerations and tissue and even muscele damage. In the event of a serious bite, a trip to the hospital will be in order. Even with a nip, be sure to clean the wound well to prevent any infection from setting in.

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