Ellie Tierney
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'Taming' Your Savannah Monitor

This article explains how I managed to gain my savannah monitor's trust enough for him to be comfortable being an educational animal.

Pablo Enjoying a Sunny Car Ride

This is my 4-month-old savannah monitor, Pablo. I got this guy (girl) when she was just a couple weeks old from the North of England and had her brought back to Central Scotland to join my family. I already had the vivarium and equipment ready before getting her as I already have reptiles and spare equipment. I will be doing a savannah monitor care article so if there are any questions about my set up and routine, hopefully they should all be answered there.

When Pablo arrived (at 4 AM might I add), he was no bigger than 6 inches including his tail. He was, of course, far darker than he is now, as they need more pigment as hatchlings for camouflage. And I just couldn't believe how small he was as I had no idea how old he was and had little to no information about him except that he was the last hatchling in his clutch left. I removed him from all his packaging and placed him inside his vivarium on the damp paper towel he was sitting on, allowing him to acclimatise to his new surroundings and explore at his own pace. To my surprise, within 15 minutes, he was wandering round, exploring his new enclosure including beginning to climb his logs and explore his hides. I then attempted to feed him a super worm, not at all expecting him to eat it bearing in mind he'd only arrived a couple hours prior, but he ate it without hesitation. Ever since day one he has been a brilliant eater and not too much of a fussy one either.


For the first few days to a week, I would simply place my hand inside the enclosure so that he got used to my scent and could make a connection between my hand and a positive experience. Each day I moved my hand a little closer to him and for a little longer until he would allow me to touch him. At first, he would only allow me to touch him if his head was buried but his back exposed as this obviously made him feel safe and get used to my touch. After he began getting used to my touch and scent, I then began to periodically hand feed him so that he created an even more positive experience with me but not so much that he stopped hunting for himself. Once again, he took the food out my tweezers without hesitation and quickly associated the sight of the tweezers with food along with the sight of my hand in his enclosure. Once he was comfortable with this, I then progressed to feeding him the food directly out my fingers and then out of the palm of my hand. At first he'd just walk around the side of my palm in order to get the food and then gradually began to place a foot onto my hand until eventually he would walk across my hand. At this point I'd had him for maybe 1.5 to 2 months. He was completely used to me by now but was still very flighty if he thought I was going to pick him up. I continued to carry on these methods until one day when he was very relaxed, I decided I would feed him a super worm with one hand and pick him up with the other. He was so distracted by his food that he did not hiss or tail whip at all and after my hand was wrapped around him, he seemed to be very relaxed and comfortable. 

After a couple weeks of handling, I then allowed Pablo to sit on me whilst sitting on the bed and let him explore, just to the boundaries of the bed. This made him a lot more confident and he began coming to the glass of his enclosure and signalling that he wanted handled so that he could go exploring. Five minutes of exploring eventually led to an hour roaming around my hazardous-free room to the dreaded harness and leash. I felt I couldn't get him anymore comfortable being handled than he already was but feared that putting the harness on would reverse all our hard work. Boy have I ever been so wrong. Pablo was completely relaxed and cooperated having his harness on for the first time. No hissing, no tail whips, and no biting. I let him explore with his harness on without using the leash just to get him used to it. Eventually, I began taking him outside for walks with his harness on, only for a couple minutes at a time to ease him into it. Soon enough he was happy enough to come out with me in the car and for long educational trips. He spends the car journeys with a combination of napping in his favourite scarf and watching out the window. Knowing he was happy enough to travel, I was then worried about how he would react to meeting a group of strangers. Once again, my little baby did not let me down. He loves his head scratches and was completely compliant in letting strangers scratch his head until it sent him to sleep. He did not hiss at a single person and was loving being spoilt.

I cannot exaggerate enough how much time and commitment these animals need to gain this kind of trust with us. This article is just describing the process of handling new monitors, not even touching on their diet and set ups. These animals should not be kept unless you can dedicate your life to them. But I can certainly say, the amount of work you put in definitely pays off in the end with you can have afternoon naps cuddled up together.  

From Pablo, Ellie and all of us from Fur monster...

Instagram: fur.monster

email: [email protected]

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