How do I Find or Build a Cheap Cage for a Savannah Monitor?

If you are handy with a jigsaw, you can save money building housing for your savannah monitor.
If you are handy with a jigsaw, you can save money building housing for your savannah monitor. (Image: alexxl66/iStock/Getty Images)

The most economical way to provide housing for your savannah monitor (Varanus exanthematicus) is to build an enclosure around a large stock tank. The term “cheap” is relative. Savannah monitors are large lizards who require large habitats, which are expensive to construct or purchase. Nevertheless, using a stock tank as the foundation for the cage will help keep the total cost of the enclosure relatively low.

Things You'll Need

  • 8-foot-long, 2-foot-wide, 3-foot-deep stock tank
  • 96-by-48-inch sheet of ¾-inch plywood
  • Two 2-inch squares of 1-inch-thick pine board
  • Small roll of quarter-inch hardware cloth
  • Jigsaw
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bits for metal, wood and driving screws
  • 16 Screws with smooth heads
  • Staple gun
  • Large, heavy duty staples
  • Wire cutters
  • 4 metal hasp sets
  • Pencil
  • Heat lamp and bulb
  • 48-inch double-bulb, fluorescent fixture
  • 2 48-inch, full-spectrum bulbs
  • Digital indoor-outdoor thermometer
  • Substrate suitable for tunneling, such as organic top soil or a custom blend
  • Hiding areas, such as hollow logs or stacked boards
  • Water dish
  • 5-gallons nontoxic sealant
  • Paint brush

Making the Top

Place the piece of plywood on the ground. Invert the stock tank and place it on top of the plywood.

Trace the outline of the stock tank onto the plywood with the pencil. Remove the stock tank and set it down right side up.

Cut the plywood along the line you have traced by using the jigsaw. Place the cut plywood on top of the stock tank.

Accommodating the Lights

Place the heat lamp shroud on top of the plywood. Place it about 6 inches from the either end of the top, in the middle of the wood.

Trace the outline of the heat lamp shroud with the pencil. Remove the heat lamp shroud and set it aside.

Drill four quarter-inch holes along the perimeter of the drawn circle. These will provide relief for the board as you cut out the circle, thus preventing the wood from splitting or breaking.

Cut along the circle with the jigsaw. Remove and discard the resulting circle.

Place the fluorescent light fixture on the top. Be sure to place it at the same end of the cage as the heat lamp, but you can orient the lamp in any direction you like.

Trace the outline of the fluorescent light on top with the pencil. Remove the light strip and set it aside once you are done.

Drill four quarter-inch holes through the top at each of the four corners of the drawn rectangle to provide relief when you cut out the rectangle.

Cut out the rectangle using the jigsaw. Remove and discard the resulting rectangle.

Sealing the Top

Apply the first layer of nontoxic sealant to the wood with the paint brush. Allow the wood to dry for the recommended length of time.

Apply a second coat of sealant with the brush. Allow the second coat to dry, and then apply a third and final coat.

Allow the top to dry in a well-ventilated space for at least 24 to 48 hours.

Completing the Top

Cut a 1-foot-square and a 5-by-1-foot rectangle from the hardware cloth with the wire cutters.

Place the square piece of hardware cloth over the circular hole in the top and the rectangular piece of hardware cloth over the rectangular hole. Affix both sections to the top with the staple gun and staples. Use a generous amount of staples to ensure that the hardware cloth stays in place.

Place the top on the stock tank. Place the female end of each hasp on the cage top. Place two hasps on each side, about 3 feet apart from each other. Drive the screws provided with the hasp through the wood to attach all four hasps to the top.

Line up the female end of each hasp with the male end of each hasp so that you know where the male end of each hasp needs to be. Place the pine board squares underneath the male end of the hasps, so that it is sandwiched between the hasp and the stock tank.

Clamp all four pine boards into place. Drill four pilot holes through the stock tank from the inside into each of the four pine boards. Once the pilot holes are drilled, drive the smooth-headed screws through the stock tank sides and into the pine boards.

Remove the clamps. All four pine boards should now be attached to the side of the stock tank.

Line up the male and female hasps again. Connect the male end of the hasps to the pine boards with the drill and screws.

Assembling the Habitat

Fill the bottom of the stock tank with about 12 to 18 inches of substrate. Place the water bowl and hiding places inside the cage. Place the thermometer probe inside the cage and route the cable outside of the cage -- place the thermometer body on the outside of the stock tank with the included adhesive strip.

Introduce the lizard to the cage.

Close the lid and engage all four hasps. Place the heat lamp and fluorescent fixtures in the appropriate places.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you have money left in your budget, you can add a pair of heavy-duty hinges to the top. This will allow you to open and close the top without having to remove it and set it to the side. This also allows you to use two hasps, rather than four.
  • This stock tank design represents the absolute minimum amount of space that you should provide to your pet. If at all possible, opt for an even larger stock tank, and scale up the components accordingly.
  • Always be sure that the cage is secure, and that the latches hold the top in place before leaving your monitor unattended.

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