In 1965, the San Diego Zoo’s first chameleon’s arrived: Parson’s and Madagascan flap-necked chameleons. Jackson’s chameleons entered our collection in 1971.
The Zoo received its first two pairs of veiled chameleons in 1990. A month later, we acquired another pair, and soon realized that two of them cannot be kept in the same enclosure. In fact, males cannot be within sight of each other from any distance, because they continually threaten one another, creating too much stress to keep them healthy.
All six gained weight quickly, but one female kept on growing. After a few months, it was obvious that “she” was really a male. We called him the Hulk. Later that year, we welcomed our first hatchlings: 34 babies emerged from 54 eggs laid. We may have been the first zoo to exhibit and breed veiled chameleons in the US.
Currently, there are no chameleons at the Zoo. Read about a former Zoo resident, a Parson’s chameleon named Big Daddy.
Madagascar is home to nearly two-thirds of all chameleon species. Three of those species— Belalanda chameleon Furcifer belalandaensis, bizarre-nosed chameleon Calumma hafahafa, and Namoroka leaf chameleon Brookesia bonsi—are at critical risk, losing their habitat to slash-and-burn agricultural practices, logging for construction or charcoal, and cattle grazing.
Loss of habitat affects other chameleon species as well, as does collection for the pet trade. Sadly, many chameleon species do not do well in captivity.