Seychelles Chameleon © H. Legge
‘We want people to self-discover the world around them because it is the best way for them to value the environment and protect it,’ says Nirmal Shah of Nature Seychelles. ‘The difficulty, and also the exciting challenge, in spotting chameleons is that they are after all masters of camouflage,’ he adds. ‘It’s the ideal sort of informal conservation monitoring project in which to involve the general public. We are looking to encourage public participation – or ‘citizen science’, as it is sometimes known.’
The Seychelles chameleon is difficult to see because, typically of chameleons, it has the ability to adjust its colour to match its surroundings, and because it tends to stay motionless in the foliage of trees and shrubs. It grows to around 25 centimetres long, has eyes that can swivel in different directions, and a tail that curls around the small branches of trees to help it balance. Chameleons are harmless and peaceful creatures that eat insects, which they catch on the end of their long, sticky tongues. Although they do not often leave the safety of trees and bushes, you are most likely to see one if it comes down to ground level to move to a new tree.
Around two-thirds of the world's chameleons are native to Madagascar. Africa is home to nearly all the world’s other species of chameleon, although you can also find them in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, southern Spain and India, and small islands such as Comoros and Mahe, Praslin and Silhouette here in Seychelles.
Some countries, like Kenya and South Africa, have voluntarily banned the export of their endemic species of chameleons for the commercial pet trade, and others have legislation governing collection and exportation.
Habitat loss and fragmentation are the most serious conservation threats for chameleons, but the future of wild chameleons is also threatened by escalating collection for the pet trade. From 1993 to 1998, more than 250,000 chameleons were exported from Africa, Yemen and the Seychelles. At the same time, more than 226,000 were exported from Madagascar. This makes a total of almost half a million chameleons. Of these, it is likely that fewer than 1% are still alive today. Many of the commonly exported species have a long history of being kept captive, but have consistently failed to survive long-term or reproduce regularly or at all in captivity.