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The Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) originates from the southwestern coastal region of Saudi Arabia and western Yemen.
Colouration in the Veiled chameleon is highly variable and can change rapidly depending upon environmental conditions. Males typically have vertical body bands of bright gold, green and blue mixed with yellow, orange or black. Females are typically light green with a mottled pattern of white to gold spots on the body and light blue on the dorsal crest. Males reach 61cm total length and females grow to about half the size of males.
Veiled chameleons have established non-native pest populations in Hawaii and Florida in the USA after introduction through the pet trade. Because of their reproductive capacity, their ability to prey upon native birds and insects, and their adaptability to survive in a wide variety of climates, Hawaii’s ecosystem is considered to have been damaged by the hunting and eating patterns of chameleons.
The Bomford Risk Assessment Model1 provides a model of the risk to Australia of non-indigenous animals based on data collected for introduced species in Britain and the United States of America using parameters including taxonomy, climate matching, geographic range, and success of establishment elsewhere. The Bomford Risk Assessment Model classifies the Veiled chameleon as a ‘Serious’ establishment risk for Australia.
Chameleons are susceptible to a variety of parasites which can affect other animals, including humans. These parasites include threadworms, coccidia roundworms and protozoan parasites such as Plasmodium which can cause malaria, Trypanosoma which causes sleeping sickness and Leishmania.
Pest populations of chameleons are difficult to manage because manual searching and removal is currently the only effective control method. This control method is hampered by the animal’s arboreal nature and their ability to modify their body colour to match their immediate environment.
In captivity, 30-60 (and up to 85) eggs are typically laid per clutch, and 3-5 clutches may be laid annually. Eggs often take 6-8 months to hatch. Females become sexually mature at around 5-6 months old and can live to about 5 years of age while males can live up to 8 years.
Veiled chameleons (and other chameleon species) have been bred and actively distributed by the pet industry and are now kept both legally and illegally in captivity around the world. In Australia the importation of live animals is controlled by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), and the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth). There are restrictions on the animals that can be imported into Australia. These restrictions have been established as a safeguard to protect Australia against exotic pests and diseases that are considered a threat to the Australian environment, economy and the wider community and to protect endangered species from uncontrolled trade which can lead to population decline and extinction of endangered species.
The illegal importation of wildlife often leads to animal cruelty issues due to the efforts made by smugglers to avoid detection of the animals during the importation process. As a consequence, smuggled animals can suffer stress, dehydration and starvation and many smuggled animals die during or as a result of the smuggling process.
As a reflection of the biosecurity risks it presents, the Veiled chameleon is classified as a Prohibited Dealing under the Biosecurity Act 2015. It is an offence to keep this species unless authorised, for example under the Exhibited Animals Protection Act 1986 or Animal Research Act 1985.
1Bomford, M. Risk Assessment Models for Establishment of Exotic Vertebrates in Australia and New Zealand: A Report Produced for the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre. Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, 2008
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