A little story courtesy of our aquarium staff…
Jackson’s chameleons are charismatic reptiles that are very popular with Academy guests. Male Jackson’s chameleons have three elongated horns on their head. This species is native to the humid, cooler regions of East Africa, but was introduced to Hawaii in 1972. A shipment was legally imported for the pet trade but arrived in poor condition, so the animals were released on the island of Oahu “to recover”. The chameleons survived, and over the past 40 years have established populations on several islands. They are now considered an invasive pest and a threat to native Hawaiian insects.
Last November, Steinhart Aquarium staff traveled to Hawaii and collected invasive chameleons for our display in Tusher African Hall. One male and two females were collected to join a male already on exhibit. The goal was to establish two breeding pairs to sustain our collection for years to come. After all, birds do it and bees do it. Presumably chameleons do it, too.
We were successful far more quickly than we had anticipated. On May 7, one of the females gave birth to 16 baby chameleons. And on May 21, the other female gave birth to 13 babies. Most other chameleons lay eggs, but Jackson’s chameleons give birth to tiny offspring that closely resemble the adults.
Steinhart biologists have been busy making sure the babies continue to thrive by taking them out for field trips on sunny days and giving them the appropriate foods for their size. We have already found homes for a number of them at other AZA-accredited institutions, and are working on placing the rest.
These kinds of projects enhance the sustainability of zoo and aquarium collections in at least two ways. First, we collected adult animals from where they are considered to be invasive, rather than from their native habitat. Second, by breeding these animals and distributing their offspring to other institutions, we provide healthy specimens that are better acclimated to live displays and reduce the need to collect from the wild.
During your next visit, stop by Tusher African Hall and say hello to the adult Jackson’s chameleons!