I woke up this morning with the intense desire to own a monitor lizard. This happens to me more often than you might think.
Problem is, owning a monitor isn’t like owning a puppy or a kitten. If you don’t know what you’re doing, the animal dies. (Admittedly that can be true with puppies and kittens, too. But because they are domesticated and so much more deeply embedded in our culture, it’s a lot harder. But the vast majority of pet reptiles don’t make it past their first year.)
I don’t like to kill animals. Especially not because I screwed up.
So when I wake up with an intense craving to own a monitor lizard, I turn to Daniel Bennett. I first ‘met’ Daniel Bennett when I read his book, “A Little Book of Monitor Lizards.” Written in 1995, this book is still perhaps the best layperson’s species overview. (It is available in PDF format from his website for a whopping $5. Very worth it.)
I’ve been a huge fan of monitors since I first held a water monitor when I was 8 years old, but Daniel Bennett’s book changed the way I looked at them. He doesn’t write books to sell pets; his aim is entirely to keep your ignorance from killing some poor lizard who never did anything to you. He does field research – a lot of field research – and then translates his and others’ research into how monitors really live in the wild … and therefore what they really need to be happy, healthy lizards in captivity.
And he is very clear: if you can’t provide what the lizard needs, don’t buy the lizard.
Here’s a personal story: At one time I owned a 6.5 foot long black-throat (V. albigularis ionidesi). I bought Gabriel as an 18″ hatchling without accounting for quite how big he would get. As he grew, my family helped me convert our screened porch to a 20′x10′ cage for him even though it meant moving out the barbecue, patio furniture, beer keg fridge (don’t ask) and everything else. My mother’s plants stayed but she replaced them about once a month. Gabe liked to sleep on them. He wasn’t gentle.
At any rate, even with all of that Gabriel really needed more. More space, more and smaller prey items, more attention. And then I went off to college … I was extremely lucky that I knew a man who ran the wildlife department at Cypress Gardens and was able to take Gabriel. He got a huge outdoor cage and joined their educational program, which he loved. Gabe liked kids, and I don’t mean as food.
So. When I wake up with an urge to own a monitor, I take it seriously. I start with a list of what resources I have, including things like how likely I am to move in the next year and what resources I will have then. And then I start looking to see what species my resources might be sufficient to support.
Usually it’s not a long list. Most of the big monitors are outside what a normal person can do, no matter how much I love them. Even the ones who aren’t require a lot more space than I can give right now – and possibly ever.
So I start with the Odatria (the dwarf monitors) and go down the list, looking at space requirements, food requirements, and finally hitting the net to see how many are being bred in captivity, how reputable those breeders are, and how much the hatchlings are going for.
By the time I’m done, it’s usually lunch time and the irrationally intense desire to own a monitor has subsided for another week or two. If not, I have the preliminary information I need to start seriously thinking about a monitor.
And that’s why Daniel Bennett is my hero – and the hero of all the monitors I might have otherwise killed in my ignorance.
Important Note: If you are considering getting a Savannah monitor – one of the cheapest, most common, and ‘easiest’ monitors to keep – you have to read the Savannah Monitor article on Daniel Bennett’s website. If after that you are still considering a Savannah, make sure you pick up the book he wrote on them: The Savannah Monitor Lizard.