Check your garden waste for chameleons
An interview on radio station CapeTalk on 29 January 2015 has sparked an interesting debate about the fate of chameleons that end up at garden refuse sites across the city, due to being transported there in the garden waste.
SANBI’s expert on chameleons, Dr Krystal Tolley, says ideally all gardeners should double-check their garden refuse for wildlife before it is sent to any waste sites around the country. But, of course, unfortunately some chameleons do end up at these sites. While it seems preferable for a chameleon that ends up at the waste site to be taken elsewhere to a leafy garden, Dr Tolley says this can be harmful. She says, “because we do not know where that chameleon originated, re-homing it could spread disease and pathogens or you could be impacting the new population genetically. Other issues with releasing chameleons into new homes relate to increasing the population density in an area which increases competition for food, causing conflict between individual animals."
Chameleons will fight aggressively with each other if there are too many in an area. So while saving one animal from the garden refuse centre might seem to be a good idea for that animal, there is a knock on effect to the native population where it is released. If chameleons are released into an area where there is no current population, that area is probably not suitable for them. Chameleons are native to the Cape Town area, and where chameleons are absent, there is already some issue with the habitat. For example, high density of predators (primarily domestic cats) can wipe out urban populations of chameleons, or the habitat structure may not be good for chameleons. Some gardens may be very leafy, but if the correct plants are not there, chameleons will not be able to make a home for themselves.
Chameleons are internationally protected species, so it is very important to note that it is illegal to sell or buy chameleons without a permit. It is also illegal to re-home chameleons in the Western Cape without a permit from CapeNature.
Dr Tolley is working with officials from the City of Cape Town to create awareness about chameleon friendly-gardening practices and investigate the possibility of planting chameleon-friendly plants at the dump sites to create a habitat for the chameleons rescued there.
Ideally, gardeners all over the country can help chameleons by turning their gardens into suitable habitats to sustain them. There are fewer chameleons than there were a few years ago, and this is because they have smaller areas to live in and are killed by cars, cats and pesticides.
Capetonians can Google “gardening for chameleons in Cape Town” to find gardening tips
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