A Chameleon Happy Ending

Yes, it really does still happen! This story is a tale of compassion, dedication and commitment. I actually feel humbled by the opportunity I have to write it. It all started many months ago when something we often see on our roads touched the heart of a man dedicated to conservation all his life. Road Kill - referred to by researchers as DOR: Dead on Road.

Animals killed by vehicles are recorded as such on databases. Our 'good samaritan' was Dave Rushworth who came across a dead chameleon, heavily gravid with eggs, she had been squashed and the eggs expelled from her body (Photo 1.). Dave wrote an article for the Kruger Times in March 2008 on the plight of chameleons and included the incident to highlight the situation.

Collecting the Eggs

Dave collected 43 of the chameleon eggs on 28 February 2008 and, on the advice of Donald Strydom, curator of Khamai Reptile Park, half-buried the eggs in soil. Dave kept the eggs for some weeks and during a visit to his place, he told us of the eggs as my daughter Allison was interested in reptiles. When we looked at the eggs they were not in good shape - some had shrunk others had been predated by ants, flies and snails and we could only manage to save five of the original number of eggs. He then offered to give the remaining eggs to my wife, Tertia, and Allison as he did not have the time to care for the eggs properly. Keen to try and rear some chameleons they accepted and headed home with their little clutch of chameleon eggs (Photo 2.).

Numerous phone calls were made and books consulted to get the correct advice on how to treat the eggs. Soil was washed and then baked in the oven to be sterilized. A small fish tank was cleaned and the lid decorated with beadwork, of course including a stylised chameleon! The soil was placed in the tank and the eggs buried according to the advice received. A spray bottle had to be kept handy as the soil had to be dampened on a daily basis.

Numbers Dwindled

Even when we were away from home, our domestic help or the house-sitter, were instructed to ensure that the eggs are kept moist. Unfortunately, with regular inspec- tions of the eggs, some casualties did occur and the numbers dwindle to the final pair. The eggs would shrivel thus indicating that the embryo was no longer viable. Just five days ago another egg had shriveled and Tertia proceeded to open it to see if there had been any development of the embryo. Only a yolk sack was found with no signs of a small chameleon. Hopes were low for the final egg as we had now lost all but one. Then the miracle. Inspection of the egg this evening (23 December 2008), showed that it too had started shriveling.

Tertia took the egg and, on closer inspection, noticed that egg had split. Not thinking much of this development, she squeezed the opposite end of the egg and out popped a little head. Excited she started carefully opening the egg and discovered a fully formed chameleon. He was white in colour and breathing shallowly, lying curled up.

Fighting for Survival

The family was called to look at the newly hatched chameleon. He changed colour becoming the normal green of a chameleon but still curled up (Photo 3.). Hope dwindled as there was no movement. Tertia took a wet piece of cotton wool and wiped the little body where there was still some yolk attached. Suddenly a leg started to move and then the others - the poor little one was stuck in the dried yolk! Once released from his bondage, he was up and walking all over the place (Photo 4.). A small tree was brought in for him and he climbed all over it till he reached the top-most branchlet.

The dedication has not ended here as now food has to be caught and made available to the chameleon in his cage until he can be released to provide for himself. A number of methods to attract small insects to rotting fruit have been tried. Lawns are combed for small grasshoppers and crickets. His first attempts at hunting down a grasshopper was seen and greeted with excitement as this showed he was looking after himself.

It Made a Difference

This episode brings to mind the story of the man walking along the beach who came across thousands of starfish that had washed ashore. As he walked he picked up starfish and tossed them back into the sea. A passerby noticed this and asked why he was bothering to do this as there were too many and therefore would make no difference. The man picked up another starfish and tossed it into the sea and said to the passerby, "It made a difference to that one!" Well, in this story, ten months of dedication by Dave, Tertia and Allison has made a difference to the life of Cammy the chameleon.

Threatened Chameleons

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Kruger National Park - South African Safari