Species background and management


The Giant Girdled Lizard also known as Cordylus giganteus, Sungazer, Giant Spiny-tailed Lizard, Giant Zonure, or Ouvolk is the largest of the girdled lizards. This lizard has four very large, spiny scales on the back of the head and the dorsal scales are larger than the lateral scales which are smaller but still spiny. Juveniles are generally similar to adults but with patches of orange-brown on the body. The Sungazer can grow up to 40cm, head to tail.

They feed on insects especially beetles; juveniles eat predominantly ants and other small insects. What is unique about this species is the fact that they give birth to live young (viviparous) instead of laying eggs. There is evidence of parental care which is unusual in reptiles but this does not come as much of a surprise since they only produce one or two offspring every other year. Sungazer’s are endemic to the Highveld grassland of South Africa with scattered populations found, where suitable habitat exists, throughout the North-Eastern Free State, South-Eastern Mpumalanga and West KwaZulu-Natal. The species is currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the (IUCN Red List) however re-assessments still needs to be done urgently to determine the true conservation status of the Sungazer.

South Africa’s grasslands are highly arable and therefore intensively used for agriculture, this region is also intensively mined (predominantly coal mining). These practices are therefore a major threat to the species survival, destroying large tracks of Sungazer habitat and creating a highly fragmented patchwork of small isolated populations. Additional threats to this species are construction of roads, power stations and dams, and illegal removal for pet and traditional medicine trade. While the species is listed on CITES Appendix II it is believed that illegal collection from the wild is still happening and that this poses a further, currently unquantified threat to the population.

No Sungazer’s have been confirmed to have bred in captivity to date and hence captive-breeding of Sungazer’s needs careful consideration and research focus.

The damage that has already been done cannot be undone. We can, however, draw a line in the sand and move forward collectively to help prevent these magnificent creatures from going extinct.


To date very little is known about the procedure for relocating Sungazer’s and known relocation efforts to date have proven largely unsuccessful. This document is based on research focusing on other species relocation efforts globally, the IUCN Guidelines for re-introductions and other conservation translocations (2013) and previous experience with attempted Sungazer re-introductions. A study by Fischer & Lindenmayer (2000) investigated all previously published relocations found that the value of animal relocation as a conservation tool could be enhanced through (1) more rigorous testing for the appropriateness of the approach in a given case, (2) the establishment of widely used and generally accepted criteria for judging the success or failure of relocations, (3) better monitoring following a relocation, (4) better financial accountability, and (5) greater effort to publish the outcome of relocations, even ones that are unsuccessful. Post hoc assessment following a relocation effort of 320 Sungazers to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Groenewald (1992) suggested that to avoid pitfalls, the soil-type, soil moisture, soil depth, topography, grass species composition, burrow geometry and layout, as well as predators in the target area should not be disregarded. The mobility of the animals should not be overlooked, and during transportation, the juveniles require special attention.


All Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) that are relevant to Sungazer’s or their habitat should be addressed to the Sungazer Working Group (SWG) for comment and assistance. This species is very sensitive to disturbance and the management of affected populations is not trivial.

We urge consultants to please contact Dr Ian Little at ianl@ewt.org.za or 084 240 7341.