Sungazers – Smaug giganteus

Sungazer
Sungazer

Extract from South African Reseearch foundation website:  Click here to read the full article

Sungazers are a species of girdled lizard endemic to South Africa and their habitat is limited mainly to the highveld grasslands of the Free State. Currently Sungazers are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and international trade in these animals is limited as they are listed under CITES Appendix II.

The common name for the Sungazers refers to the characteristic stance these lizards take when basking in the sun at the entrance to their underground burrows. The Sungazers are also sometimes called Giant Girdled Lizards and are often locally referred to as ‘Ouvolk’.

Threats

Historically Sungazers were common in their natural habitat, but over the last few decades there has been a significant decrease in the numbers of wild Sungazers. This can be attributed to a number of factors. The two most significant threats these lizards face are continued habitat destruction and illegal collection of wild specimens for the pet trade.

The Sungazer’s natural habitat (highveld grasslands) is unfortunately also very good land for agriculture and as such much of their habitat has been destroyed. Many farming practices have led to the fragmentation of existing populations into smaller isolated groups which are more likely to become locally extinct.

The second biggest threat to these lizards is collection for the pet trade market. Most of the Sungazers that are illegally collected in South Africa are smuggled overseas where they are sold privately or at reptile expos as “captive-bred” animals. However, Sungazers are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity and there are only a handful of institutions worldwide that have successfully bred them.

As noted by Althea Guinsberg in the most recent Sungazer Regional Studbook, none of the participating institutions have so far achieved bona fide captive breeding. Often cases of ‘captive-breeding’ occur simply when a female lizard was caught out of the wild in a gravid/pregnant state and then gave birth in captivity.