Nile monitor

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Varanus niloticus

  • SWAHILI NAME: Kenge; Uru

Nile monitors possess an unparalleled reputation for fierceness and seldom back down from a challenge—not even from crocodiles. One of the largest lizards in Africa, it can run, swim, and climb with surprising swiftness.

Nile monitor

Nile monitor



Daily Rhythm




Life span

In the wild: Insufficient data
In captivity: 10 to 20 years

Conservation Status

Protected (Appendix II, CITES)


Insufficient data


6 to 7 ft (1.8 to 2.1 m) long, including tail

Nile monitor

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Easy to identify by the very large claws
Scat: Like a snake's; contains brown matter and white urea

Nile monitor tracks

Trivia Question

Other than being dangerous to approach, how do Nile monitors pose a threat to humans?


Nile monitors can be infected with sleeping sickness through the bites of tsetse flies and become carriers of the disease.

Social Structure

Nile monitors generally lead solitary lives except during the mating season. In areas where food is plentiful, they will tolerate the presence of other monitors.


Nile monitors use body language and scent cues to communicate with other monitors.


A Nile monitor holds its body and head well off the ground while walking. When frightened, these lizards arch their backs, hiss, and inflate their bodies to make them as large as possible. A threatened Nile monitor will retreat to water if any is nearby. Otherwise, it will fight ferociously, using its strength, claws, and teeth. These lizards hunt by leaping on their prey at alarming speeds—though sometimes they employ stealth. They will work in pairs to steal crocodile eggs: One distracts the mother crocodile; the other pilfers the nest and escapes with the eggs.


These lizards have not been evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but their populations seem to be healthy. They are protected in Africa under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates the movement of endangered species across international borders.

Range & Habitat

Nile monitors live throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

These lizards are very adaptable and live successfully in a wide range of habitats, including forests, savannas, scrublands, swamps, and even towns and on farms. They need open, sunny places for basking and often live near water. Soft, sandy soils are preferred, as these make it easier for Nile monitors to dig their burrows.


Nile monitors have voracious appetites and will eat almost anything—whether they kill it themselves or find it as carrion. Their diet includes frogs, toads, small mammals, fish, lizards, turtles, birds, crabs, spiders, shellfish, snails, insects, worms, slugs, and eggs.


Nile monitors become sexually mature at three to four years of age, with mating taking place at the end of the rainy season. The female lays up to 60 eggs underground or in a termite mound, then goes on her way. The brightly colored babies hatch six to nine months later.

Friends & Foes

Termites play a role in protecting the eggs of Nile monitors. After a mother digs a hole in a termite mound and lays her eggs, the insects repair the hole, effectively safeguarding the eggs while they incubate. African rock pythons and crocodiles prey on Nile monitors, and humans hunt them for food and use their skin to make leather.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

Insufficient data

Nile monitor

Did you know?

A Nile monitor “tastes” its surroundings by using its forked tongue and special organs on the roof of its mouth that help identify chemical compounds.