Welcome to the official website of the Sungazer Working Group (SWG)


Ensure the long-term survival of Sungazers in their natural grassland habitat in South Africa


  • Attempt to reverse the perceived decline of wild Sungazer’s populations.
  • Undertake community outreach for Sungazer awareness.
  • Promote public awareness of the plight of wild Sungazer’s.
  • Initiate, develop and support scientific research projects on Sungazers within the fields of their ecology, biology, genetic diversity, population status, distribution, use as traditional medicine and the pet trade.
  • Secure Sungazer habitat under formal proclamation.
  • Hands-on management of populations affected by development or other disturbance through relocation practices.
  • Develop formal best practice and management plan guidelines for the species, and
  • Be involved with and in support of rehabilitation, ex-situ conservation, husbandry and reintroduction


The Sungazer (Smaug giganteus), previously Cordylus giganteus, isalso known as the Giant Girdled Lizard, Giant Spiny-tailed Lizard or Giant Zonure, is a large ground dwelling lizard endemic to South Africas central highveld grassland plateau. It is known as Ouvolk in Afrikaans communities, Mbedhla in Zulu and Patagaly or Pagataly in Sotho. Sungazer’s are so called from their habit of sitting with their nose pointed up towards the sky. They occur only in the north-eastern Free State and southern Mpumalanga Provinces of South Africa. The entire distribution of the Sungazer falls within the Highveld Agricultural Region (HAR) where its extent of occurrence covers 40% of the total area.

The Sungazer is unusual as it is not rupicolous, but rather shelters in self-excavated burrows in open short grassland, these burrows extend up to 420 mm below the soil surface. Agricultural practises, mining and collection for the pet and traditional medicine trades are the major and direct threats to the species.

The Sungazer is endemic to South Africa, this means they occur nowhere else in the world! So it is up to us to make sure they do not go extinct.


Grasslands in all their variations are currently one of South Africa’s most threatened biomes, with only 2.5% formally conserved and more than 60% already irreversibly transformed. The primary threats to grassland habitat includes degradation and conversion mainly as a result of large scale agriculture development, urbanisation, prospecting and mining. The South African grasslands biome is the second largest biome in South Africa, covering an area of 339 237 km². It contains the economic heartland of South Africa and produces the bulk of water needed to sustain human life and underpin economic growth.