Zoo Refugees: Stump-tailed Dwarf Chameleons and Animal Confiscations

When you visit the Zoo, you get to see lots of animals – from elephants to meerkats to jellyfish to Komodo dragons – and each of them has a story. Some of them are facing extinction and are among the last representatives of their species, while others are there because they were injured or orphaned out in the wild and needed a home. Still others, as you will learn here, were confiscated.

So goes the story of several of the Zoo’s most recent arrivals, the stump-tailed dwarf chameleons. These little reptiles were making a journey into the US to become a part of the pet trade. When the chameleons arrived, many had perished and the others were in poor health and severely dehydrated-there were a lot of them, but only a small percentage survived, as they are very delicate animals.

One of the recently confiscated stump-tailed dwarf chameleons
One of the recently confiscated stump-tailed dwarf chameleons

A number of zoos were asked to take in these confiscated chameleons, because no single zoo had the facilities house all of them. That’s one of the great things about zoos – we work together very well, because our mission is the same: to help animals whenever and wherever we can.

We were able to take in 15 chameleons from this confiscation, but by the time we were able to nurse them back to health, only 6 made it. You can visit those 6 animals, now thriving and healthy, in the Reptiles & Amphibians Building.

You can see these chameleons in their habitat inside the Reptiles & Amphibians Building
You can see these chameleons in their habitat inside the Reptiles & Amphibians Building

With reptiles, a lot of the reason why they are coming into the country in the first place is to become pets. Many times they are captured out of the wild and kept in very poor conditions until they can be shipped (often also in very poor conditions). By the time they get to the US, the odds aren’t good that most will survive.

It’s not a bad thing at all to have a reptile as a pet, but it is important to know a few things first before you get started. Here are a few tips if you’re considering it:

  1. Do your research. What does the animal eat? What is its life span? Where does it live, and how will you make a home for it? How does it get water? Stump-tailed dwarf chameleons, like many lizards and some snakes, don’t drink from a water bowl. They actually need to be “rained on” with a mister or else they won’t get the water they need.
  2. Choose an animal at your skill level. Some animals are way harder to take care of than others, so know what you can handle and how much time and energy it will take to care for them. These little chameleons take a lot of work – only try this at home if you’re sure you can handle it!
  3. Find a good breeder that is responsible. You may find a good quality pet store, or you may visit an expo like the one the East Texas Herpetological Society holds each fall.
  4. Ask the right questions. Ask questions of your breeder like “has this animal been captive bred?” If the answer is yes, that’s a good thing. There is no need to take animals out of the wild. Some breeders may say “this animal has been captive born” – that doesn’t count. They may have taken the parents out of the wild, and that is no good at all. Find another breeder.
  5. Be prepared. Purchase all the “gear” you will need for your animal, like caging, lighting, food, water, and more. Go back to your research and be sure to read the instructions on how to set everything up properly too.

The more people that take the steps to help pick out the right pet, the less confiscations and “bad guys” there will be, and the better off the animals in the wild will be too. And while there are only 6 left, those little stump-tailed dwarf chameleons are not only adorable, but they are also important ambassadors to help tell the story of how we can help out animals by being responsible with our choices.

A stump-tailed dwarf chameleon is not even as big as your finger!
A stump-tailed dwarf chameleon is not even as big as your finger!


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Today is #NationalDogDay, which makes it a great time to feature one of our guest-favorites, Max! Max is a gentle, people-loving terrier mix who went from a hard beginning to a life of comfort and play under the care of our elephant team. Read about Max here: www.houstonzoo.org/meet-max-the-elephant-barn-dog/ ... See MoreSee Less

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