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European Studbook Foundation –

I represent the European Studbook Foundation at board level for the United Kingdom. I also administer the studbook for bot the Armadillo Lizard: O. cataphractus and the Sungazer: S. giganteus. I keep track of the Sungazers being kept in zoological collections and private keepers throughout Europe – registration of animals is completely voluntary which means that there may very well be other animals not registered that are housed by private keepers.

The ESF encourages cooperation between keepers to establish a best practice when it comes to keeping this species and although the population is small (less than 30 animals) may ultimately involve and suggest inter collection exchanges or loans for breeding purposes. Although we as an organisation are not against keeping this species in captivity, the financial commitment v’s the realistic return makes this species a poor choice for those with pound (in your case rand) signs in mind. As it is the participants, whether private or zoological, keep this species from a conservation and / or educational standpoint.

Not being cute or cuddly puts the Sungazer at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to gaining public support and sympathy. That is not to say that they are not deserving of protection and correct management both in the wild and in captivity. Educating the wider public, both nationally in SA and Internationally, is the only way we are going to be able to secure the long-term survival of this species for future generations.

I would like something added to the SWG website to show the involvement of the ESF or more specifically myself in both the ex and in situ conservation of this species.

SMAUG GIGANTEUS – & SAVE OUR SUNGAZERS CAMPAIGN – (both links direct to the same web site)

I have been keeping reptiles for well over 25 years, not bad when you consider I am only 33, one species in particular – yes you guessed it, the Sungazer, has always fascinated me. As I become more and more interested in this species I found a lack of information available on the internet. So rather than moan about it I decided to collect every scrap of information and present it on my very own web site which at the time was – – the website was a huge success and I had visitors from all over the world visit and join in via the forum. Unfortunately this was the sites downfall – someone nice person decided to ‘give’ my site a virus. I lost all the information and pictures on the site – I was gutted.

Anyway, I picked myself back up and when the scientific name changed to Smaug giganteus, so too did my web site – minus the forum!!

My site is a not for profit venture and my only reason for creating it was to help raise the profit of this species – with over 3,000 unique hits, I think I have achieved this.

Personally, my goal is to find the stimuli to breeding this species in captivity. Conserving the natural habitat is of course vital but for me living in Scotland, there is very little I can do to help aid this. Alas my skills, I believe, are better placed to try and help captive animals be ambassadors for their wild cousins. In reality, Sungazers are at more risk of becoming extinct than Pandas are, people laugh when I say this but as the number of Pandas increase year on year through captive breeding the number of Sungazers decreases as we have been unable to find the key ingredient to breeding consistently in captivity - this simply is not sustainable!!

So what was I going to do to help achieve success in captive breeding? Well, one of the major factors as to why Sungazers fail to breed in captivity is, I believe, that they are not correctly cycled. From my own pocket, I purchased some Environmental Data Loggers that I have sent to Ian who has promised to put to use in the field so that one day we may be able to build up a picture as to what temperatures and humidity Sungazers are subjected to in a ‘normal’ 12 month period both above ground and below.

Another initiative is the Save Our Sungazers Roadshow, I have taken my fight for Sungazer survival to the general public. Again funded completely by myself I attend various locations throughout the UK displaying both the Sungazers themselves and highlighting the threats they face in the wild.

Here is my display -

So you can see, not everyone wishing to keep this species in captivity is out for themselves, there are genuine people who want to make a difference.

I appreciate that the SWG is focused primarily on conserving this species in the wild but Ian asked me to join, I believe, to be a link between people working with this species in a captive situation and those working in the field.

Not sure how much of this email you can actually put on the web site but if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Best Regards,

Fraser Gilchrist
Save Our Sungazers Campaign
European Studbook Foundation
UK Coordinator & Studbook keeper for the Smaug giganteus & Ouroborus cataphractus


Ancient Remnants

Flagship species are selected for their public appeal, visibility, vulnerability or uniqueness and are useful for highlighting and explaining the broader issues facing a particular environment. In South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has focused on the regionally Endangered Oribi Ouerebia and Critically Endangered Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea to highlight the threats to our grasslands for more than a decade.

National Zoological Gardens (Pretoria)

The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) is currently developing species-specific genetic microsatellite markers for the Sungazer to contribute to population genetic information on the species, for example on genetic structure, individual identification and inbreeding within and between different populations within the distribution range.

The data will provide more information on the extent of gene flow between populations of Sungazer’s. NZG researchers would then be able to plot a genetic distribution map and best determine strategies to follow in breeding programmes, relocations, as well as the establishment of new populations.

Significantly, the data collected can also be applied to on-going poaching investigations, such as indicating the locality in which the animal was poached (based on GPS data). This can help focus policing of areas with high poaching incidences, regulating trade and helping to reduce poaching.

Shivan Parusnath MSc project (WITS, TUT & EWT)


  1. Quantify the relationship between the number of occupied burrows and population density across different habitat types.
    Visual counts are often inaccurate and difficult to conduct when working with elusive animals. Indirect observational methods may thus be employed to estimate population density in such cases (Beck-King et al., 1999). Counting burrows has proven to be an accurate method of estimating population densities in elusive burrowing animals such as crabs (Govender and Rodrigeuz-Fourqet, 2004), tortoises (McCoy and Mushinsky, 1992), rodents (Beck-King et al., 1999) and other small mammals (Boonstra et al., 1992). By comparing visual counts of Sungazers to burrow density counts at sample sites across the different habitat types within the distribution, a comparative technique will be developed to accurately estimate population density using burrow counts. This technique will be more efficient and more appropriate than direct counts of lizards. Fieldwork will take place from December 2013 to April 2014. Sungazer activity peaks in spring and the early summer months (van Wyk, 2000).
  2. Quantify temporal change in population density at previously surveyed sites (31, 20, 17, and 3 years ago).
    Several studies have previously assessed Sungazer populations at varying levels of detail, ranging from distribution-wide surveys (de Waal, 1978) to site-specific studies (McIntyre, 2006). By repeating the research protocol employed by each researcher in the same areas, Shivan will be able to assess the change in population density over several time scales. This information will allow Shivan to assess the level of overall change in Sungazer populations over the past three decades, and will assist in conducting an IUCN reassessment.
  3. Quantify the current area of occupancy and population density in the distribution.
    Using the burrow counting technique explained above, Shivan will measure Sungazer population density in different habitat types within the distribution. If there are different Sungazer: burrow ratios for each habitat type, the relevant ratios can be applied to the habitat type to which it corresponds. Due to the intense fragmentation of Sungazer habitat throughout the distribution and the uncertain implications of edge effects for the species, habitat edges and interiors will be sampled. A gradient of population densities within habitat types can then be quantified.
  4. Quantify the relationship between different land management practices and population density (Conduct an IUCN Red List Assessment).
    Based on the population density measures for each habitat type quantified in the section above, I will be able to estimate population densities across the distribution for each habitat type. This will be done by overlaying population densities and recent landcover maps, and this will allow for an accurate estimation of current occurrence and population densities across the distribution. Further ground-truthing will be conducted to verify the accuracy of the population density scale developed. These data will then be used for predicting future trends of agriculturally driven habitat destruction and associated S. giganteus population loss in those areas. By combining these results with those from section two, a population viability analysis can be conducted for the species. Using all of the collected data, an IUCN reassessment for the species can be conducted.
  5. Identify areas most suitable for the conservation of S. giganteus.
    By assessing distribution-wide population densities, Shivan will identify, with the aid of computer-based GIS, areas that will most benefit from protection against anthropogenic interference. Criteria for these areas will involve intact land supporting contiguous populations and corridors, sites with suitable buffer zones and most importantly, healthy populations of Sungazer’s.

Project Sungazer


    • To serve as a resource for the general public to learn about Sungazer’s, the threats facing them and the efforts by individuals and groups to conserve them
    • To raise awareness of the illegal trade that is driving Sungazer’s towards extinction
    • To support the efforts of conservationists working towards saving them
    • To promote discussion of the conservation and management of Sungazer’s including techniques, equipment, software, exclusion, attraction and exchange of thoughts
    • Project Sungazer is a collaborative effort between multiple wildlife organisations, government agencies, private business, farmers and the general public to develop networking opportunities, campaign development and input in raising funds
    • To identify Sungazer hotspots and secure the area as a conservancy, sanctuary, reserve or secured area.


    • To secure the future existence of the Sungazer by providing Sungazer sanctuaries and reserves
    • To protect the habitat of the present population of Sungazer’s by making farmers aware of the plight of the Sungazer
    • To have a yearly function and award giving ceremony for Sungazer farmer of the year
    • Research captive breeding programs
    • Campaign development for the Sungazer
    • Networking with all role players that has the plight of the Sungazer at heart
    • Exclusion, attraction and exchange of thoughts

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The Endangered Wildlife Trusts Threatened Grassland Species Programme

We aim to identify the remaining intact populations of Sungazer’s, using them as a flagship and umbrella species for the conservation of priority remaining intact grasslands within the highland grasslands of South Africa. The presence of Sungazer’s indicates healthy, ecologically functioning grassland systems that sustain ecosystem processes such as water production and carbon sequestration. The functionally intact areas identified using the presence of functional and healthy populations of Sungazer’s will be highlighted and the TGSP will promote and assist the development of species specific conservation areas (nature reserves) for each of these species using the conservation stewardship approach. This will be followed by formal stewardship agreements and proclamation to secure future habitat for this species and to complement and capacitate the existing stewardship efforts in the provinces where this species occurs, with a target of at least 10 000ha by December 2015.

The Threatened Grassland Species Programme (TGSP) proposes to conserve high altitude grassland and Sungazer’s by:


  • assisting with stewardship programmes in South African grasslands for the conservation of remaining intact grasslands in the form of Nature Reserves and Protected Environments
  • monitoring of the legal and halting the illegal trade of Sungazer’s
  • Reviewing the IUCN conservation status of Sungazer’s (they have not been surveyed since 1978!)
  • developing a species (and potentially ecosystem) Biodiversity Management Plan (BMPs)


  • basing projects on a sound spatial analysis of the grassland threats and ecological processes
  • protecting ecological processes and in turn natural resources (especially water)
  • using this species as an indicator of habitat intactness/condition and ecological integrity
  • collaborating with other NGOs and relevant role-players in grassland and Sungazer conservation
  • the development of grassland management guidelines for Sungazer conservation and sustaining ecological processes to the benefit of all people
  • collaborating with the relevant provincial authorities around grassland conservation
  • assisting and guiding the Sungazer working group which is made up of a variety of relevant role-players to oversee the progress of Sungazer related work nationally; and
  • commenting on and advising all relevant development applications within the grasslands (within the bounds of our capacity).
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Dogs trained to help sniff out Sungazers: smugglers beware!

In May 2013, the National Zoo’s Veterinary Nurse, Sister Marilise Meyer, was tasked to assist with the scenting of cloth to train sniffer dogs at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. The project was initiated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
The dogs are trained to detect the presence of Sungazer’s being smuggled out of the country.

The first step was to “contaminate” sterile cloth material with the scent of a Sungazer, all the while preventing the cross-contamination of smells. Sungazers were placed inside a sterile container for a period of 24 hours, allowing the reptiles to leave their scent on the cloths through faeces and urine. The Sungazer’s were removed and the scent-marked cloths were transferred back into a sealed glass container.

The container with the scented material was collected by the EWT and will be used for the training of sniffer dogs. Read more about the training in future issues of Zoo e-News.
Sungazer’s are smuggled out of South Africa to countries in North America, Europe and the Far East for the pet trade. As these reptiles are endemic and indigenous to South Africa, a permit from the relevant department of nature conservation is needed to capture, transport and own a Sungazer. Without this permit, ownership is considered to be illegal and a criminal offence.
Setting the scent

Sungazer Conservation Project

The sungazer or giant girdled lizard (Smaug giganfeus) is endemic to the highland grasslands of the eastern Free State and south-eastern Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa, and its entire distribution is within the Highland Agricultural Region. The species is currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, but this assessment needs urgent revision as it is based on data that are about two decades old.
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