Keeping chameleons in South Africa

Keeping chameleons in South Africa

In my opinion, South Africa, especially the Highveld, is the best place I have lived to keep chameleons.  The winters are mild and the summers are not normally too hot.

But South Africa is a huge country with many climates. The Highveld may be ideal, Durban is good but the Cape can get cold. Elsewhere can just be very hot! No matter which part of the country you live, there is great opportunity to successfully rear and breed many species of chameleon.

Depending on where you live, you will find some excellent reptile shows. Here are some examples:

The SOS Reptile Expo is always a good. Bookings have started for May 2018 but check here for up to date details:

http://reptileexpo.co.za/

One of my favourites is the JHB Exotic Reptile and Pet Expo often held in March in Midrand. I can’t find any dates for it yet but here’s the link from last year:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1149333105195777/

Durban has it’s own shows. I’ll post details here if I can get them.

Climate

Montane chameleons kept in shade in South Africa
Montane chameleons kept in shade and under heavy misting

Even in milder areas, the mid-summer temperatures can shoot up so there is always need for caution. With adequate shade and common sense, many chameleons can benefit from being kept outdoors. In the Highveld, from October through to around April temperatures at night are often mild, so Veiled chameleons can be left outside with little fear. If you have Carpets and Panthers bring them inside if it falls below 14c.

I have kept several montane species outdoors for most of the year, except the colder winter periods, by using the shade of trees and additional spraying to keep the humidity high and the temperature cooler. Early morning or late afternoon sun is needed for UV.

Caution is particularly needed for all species in spring and early summer when warm or hot days can be followed unexpectedly by cold nights. Sudden early morning rain showers can also bring the temperature down without warning.

Winter can be very dry. Heavy misting is needed to overcome this winter dryness. The desiccating wind can quickly make matters worse.

With long cloud free days of bright sunshine (and if you exercise common sense) your chameleon will get far better UV outside than any artificial light can offer.

From a seasonal perspective, any chameleons from Madagascar will feel right at home, coming from the Southern Hemisphere. Chameleons from East Africa, however, are often native to colder climates, coming from misty montane locations. Gauteng can be too warm for such species without adequate humidity and/or shade.

Aviaries

Aviary set up for chameleons in South Africa
Aviary set up in Gauteng

The climate can allow for the use of aviaries for housing. I adapted a large aviary and kept (at different times) Jackson’s, Meller’s, Cape Dwarf and Veiled chameleons. The size of the aviary and heavy planting allowed me to keep pairs of Veiled chameleons together with minimal fuss, although I removed gravid females to reduce the risks of stress.

If you use an aviary, be aware that birds can be a nuisance. Birds in South Africa seems to harbour a hatred of chameleons I have not seen anywhere else. On one occasion, several Weaver birds followed me into the aviary to attack a Jackson’s male. You may still need additional spraying as rainfall is, at best unreliable.

See Choosing the best cage for your chameleon

Silkworms

One advantage to keeping chameleons in South Africa comes from the easy access to silkworms in spring. Schoolkids end up with vast quantities of surplus silkworms and take them to pet shops to earn extra money. Silkworms are an excellent supplement to the normal cricket diet given to chameleons.

I am unaware of any other country that has such a ready supply of silkworms! If you want to breed silkworms throughout the year, rather than rely on the annual glut in September, check out the silkworm page that shows you how!

Availability of Chameleons

It should go without saying that no indigenous chameleon should be kept in captivity. Nature Conservation rightly takes a dim view of it. It is illegal and carries serious risks if you introduce wild animals into your collection. New arrivals may carry parasites they are happy to live with. Your existing captive stock may not have the natural resistance and quickly succumb.

Flap Neck chameleons are often sold on the side of the road. Please leave them there. If you buy one, the odds are high the seller will dash back into the bush and grab another. Flap Necks do not do well in captivity. There are several sub-species/clines dotted around Southern Africa. If you buy/catch one in one location and release it elsewhere you could be compromising the genetic of the new location.

Over the past few years, buying a chameleon in South Africa has become increasingly difficult, even for Veiled chameleons. As you can see from the comments below, I get regular requests for help in locating places that sell them.

There are still reliable chameleon breeders in SA. Try www.sareptiles.co.za

If you do find a chameleon for sale, ask lots of questions before you buy it. How is it being given water? What food does it eat? Is a glass cage OK? What’s the right temperature? If the pet shop/seller gives a single wrong answer, move on. You will find the right answers in the Frequently Asked Questions page.

A chameleon that is sick doesn’t always show any symptoms. If it has been dehydrated, overheated, stressed or badly fed the chances are it will die despite your best efforts. It’s not worth the risk – if a chameleon for sale doesn’t look right, leave it where it is.

Minor disadvantages

The range of insects available from pet shops is more limited in South Africa than overseas. Most pet shops only stock crickets (outside of the silkworm season). Chameleons thrive on a mixed diet, so add as many different foods as you can – silkworms, cockroaches, soldier flies and waxworms.

For information on breeding insects as food, see: Insects as food

Occasionally, the equipment available in South Africa lags behind that on offer overseas.

Be careful when buying calcium supplements – not everything from South Africa is lekker. Some of the locally produced calcium has not been through such rigorous quality checks as products such as T-Rex.

What other information do you want to see about keeping chameleons in South Africa? Write a comment below and let me know.

 

 

42 thoughts on “Keeping chameleons in South Africa

  1. Hi David I stay in Vaal Reefs about 18km from Orkney. I was busy out side the one day (end of March) around about 12:00 midday and my daughter age of (5) kept on calling me frantically to come see the green goga obviously thinking the worse first thing popped in mind SNAKE!!! Rushing over to the far side of the back yard right in the conner of the yard by the fence I picked up a flap neck didn’t think twise bec we got 4dogs and I hadn’t seen a chameleon in many many years my daughter went crazy seeing one for the first time and I kept him (male) to show my son (age8) for when he gets home from visiting his cousin. So later that night he arrives and also first time to c one he freaks out and he just wants to keep him bec it was night already I agree on whaighting till next morning and we will release him again, next day I must work 12hours again don’t want to do it when dark bec of dogs and as time goes on I’m getting worried is it hunger thirsty and do some researche to keep it healthy untill I stop working the long shifts but to my surprise and unsaspectedly this chameleon starts growing on to me and me Evan more to it had him for about a week b4 I could let him back to his quest but I tell u I was Evan worse than my son the first day he saw the chameleon. I would like to knw by u what type of spices would fit in the best here close to Orkney bec we r close to the Vaal river and it can get cold here would it b best to keep it in doors meaning like a closed in stoep or totally out doors and r they the type of animal’s that doesn’t mind to be handled or or would it depend on different species bec I fell in love with this little animal that the kids and wife just want to keep but won’t Evan try going near it can u plz give me some info on my (would like to have) or should I like to have NOT.

  2. Hi David. We picked up a chameleon digging a hole on a road on our farm, and after putting her back in a tree she proceeded to lay 34 eggs. (Cradle of Humankind). Flap neck chameleon. We caught the eggs and put them on a perlite mixture. 12 months of waiting and the little ones have finally started arriving. In the last 2 days 5 have hatched and we think another 15 may come. We have built an enclosure with branches, are misting the chameleons constantly as it is very warm. We’ve put some fruit in their enclosure which is attracting fruit flies but we don’t think they are eating too much… we’ve only see One catch a fly (maybe they are when we are not watching). They are all in the same enclosure, not sure if this could be affecting them. Any advice on what to feed these little creatures they are really tiny. We need to get them strong and will then release them around the farm and in our garden. Any guidance and help on how to get these little ones strong and when the optimal time to release them would be? Please help we would really like to try and save as many as we can.

    1. Hi, well done in getting the eggs to hatch. With hatchlings, it’s unlikely they’ll eat too much. If the fruit flies are there and they’re hungry, they’ll eat. They often wait a few days before really eating heartily. Once they’re ready they’ll climb over each other to get at the flies.
      There is obviously a point at which they’ll be overcrowded. I normally kept around 12 to 24 hatchlings in a nursey box (about 40cmx30cmx45cm). More important than food is water, which you’re spraying for. Once they get about 2 or 3 weeks old, you’ll probably want to add pinheads crickets or even very small silkworms (of they’re available at this time of year).
      You could probably release them at a few months as they’ll be better fending for themselves and getting a more varied diet.
      I’ll send you an email. But it sounds like you’re doing well!

  3. Good Afternoon
    I rescued a cape dwarf chameleon from the electric fence, he took quiet a beating, against all odds he made it.
    I would like to take care of him and ensure he gains some strength – how do i do this.
    How do I feed him? What should I feed him. Water?
    He has definitely recovered enough now not to wont to stay in the box he was placed in so I have placed him in a bigger container with branches and leaves – no lid. I have been sprinkling water onto the leaves and spray some mist over him. The only selection I had from a food perspective in my area was meel worms but I don’t think he is eating.
    Very active little guy now, lovely colours.
    Objective is to let him go again but I would obviously not leave him near another electric fence and am thinking of letting him go in the fynbos?

    1. Hi Karen, I’ll reply by email as your question needs a longer answer than I can give here.

      1. Hi I rescued a small african chamelion that was attacted by a bird, would please help with the proper advise to help it back to health.

  4. Hi,

    I am interested in buying a Chameleon, kindly recommend a breader for me in Gauteng.

    Thank you in advance

    1. Hi JC, the same reply as before: you can try https://www.unitedreptiles.co.za I’ve known Denis for many years and he is very good with chameleons. Alternatively, try 082 091 8393 or e-mail info@premiumchameleon.co.za. I haven’t tried these guys but I’ve spoken to them a few times and they seem sincere. I’d be grateful if you could give me feedback on how you find these guys, thanks.

      1. Thank you for the reference on your site David! We have had quite a number of enquiries as a result. We will only have baby Veiled Chameleons (old enough to go to new homes) in October. Panther Chameleons only 2020.

      2. Hi, our chameleon is very weak almost like her back legs are paralyzed. She’s about 2 years old. Please help!!!

    1. Hi, as far as I am aware, Veiled chameleons are legal to own, bred and sell in most provinces. But not all. For some, such as the Cape, you will need permits. The law changes regularly, so I would advise you to check the latest legislation. Based on past experience, I would not go to Nature Conservation for accurate information.

  5. I am interested in getting a chameleon but not sure if i can taken into account the climate where i stay. Subtropical, Komatipoort (few kilos from the Mozambique border). Winter minimum temps are about +- 10′ and summers are very humid 40-100% with max temps of +- 43′
    In summer whe run the aircons almost all day long. Our UV is rated 9-11 which is extreme and in addition to pesky monkeys wont really be able to put him outside. Also inside dont have space for a huge cage, can be tall, 2.5m, but no more than 1m x 1m. Any advice? should i rather not get a chameleon or are these factors i mentioned manageable? And if so, is there a certain species that would do better in my area and the size cage i can keep?

  6. Hi is there any breeders near or around port Elizabeth?? I was looking after a chameleon who was attacked by a cat, but released him back to where I found him a week later, I am now very keen to get one and was wondering where I would find a breeder

    1. Hi, sorry I don’t know any breeders in that area – can anyone help? Well done on releasing the wild chameleon.

      1. I’m also in Port Elizabeth and picked up a Chameleon that was crossing the road in a suburb and almost got killed by a car. I am now looking after her “I thinks it’s a female” for about a month and because it is now winter and 2 degrees celsius at night I’m scared to release her. Also I have not seen a chameleon in about 15 years in the Eastern Cape so would rather take her to a place where I know she would be save. Any suggestions? Otherwise I will release her when it’s a bit warmer in spring time.

  7. Can one encourage a colony of chameleons to breed on a horsey property with an abundance of flies? Or is that not viable? I live in Kyalami, Midrand

    Regards

    Tania

    1. It’s good that you want to encourage chameleons. Kyalami is a lovely spot and when I was last there it seemed a good location for Flap Neck chameleons (Chamaeleo dilepis). So far as I am aware there are no other species that are found in that part of the Highveld.

      With all the horses, I recall that flies were a constant presence/menace in summer (I lived just down the road in Lonehill). However, food is not really the issue – and flies are not a good staple for chameleons as they need variety. A wild chameleon will find food pretty much anywhere that has the right environment.

      That’s the real issue – the environment. In the past, Flap Necks were not uncommon in the area. Pesticides and habitat destruction are responsible for much of their decline. If you can duplicate the same sort of habitat where they are still common, you’re halfway to success. You don’t have to look far. Most of the game farms on the way to Brits have good colonies of Flap Necks. Our farm was in Kameeldrift and supported a strong colony.

      Bear in mind that chameleons, especially Flap Necks, are territorial. Even if you are able to get one going, you won’t see lots of animals. We rarely saw them during the day, even in areas we’d spotted them the night before! And that means they may already exist in your area but remain unseen.

      (The best way to find them is to use a strong torch at night and search the bushes. Flap Necks go very pale at night. But for safety it’s probably not wise to wander the dark streets and lanes at night. 🙂 )

      The key things are:
      • Don’t catch chameleons from elsewhere and introduce them. That rarely works and is illegal.
      • Don’t try to introduce other species, as that could create all sorts of problems and is also illegal.

      If you create the right environment, they should appear on their own. And you would have helped a struggling species maintain its presence, which is awesome.

  8. Looking for artificial silkworm chow would be greatly appreciated if you can assist

    Regards
    Jessica

    1. A great question. I’m not aware of anyone who sells artificial silkworm food in SA. When I lived in SA I used to import 10kg bags from the US. I’d then split them into 100g bags and add instructions and – it sold really fast. I found artificial food was better than mulberry.
      An opportunity for an entrepreneur?
      It’s the same here in Malaysia. Artificial food is all but unknown, so we have to import it.
      If anyone has access to a source, please post it so others know where to get it. Thanks.
      David

    1. The answer isn’t straightforward and depends on the species,… temperature, and type of food, plus a range of other factors like UV.
      If it’s a Veiled at 2 months old, you may still be feeding it a few fruit flies for variety. For small/young chameleons, I like to put a small plastic tub in the cage with a small amount of mashed banana in the bottom. I shove a stick in the banana and soon (normally) loads of fruit flies congregate at the top. (Possibly not in winter).
      But you should be feeding it something more substantial, like small crickets. The normal rule of thumb is that the cricket should be no longer than the chameleon’s mouth is wide. Smaller is also fine.
      I leave the small crickets in a plastic tub in the cage. If it’s a small cage (which is what I use for the first three months), it goes on the cage floor. When the chameleons are a bit older, I use magnets to hold the tub higher in the cage.
      The chameleons soon learn to sit on the edge of the tub and ‘shoot’ the crickets. I add as many crickets as are eaten in about 30 minutes and then repeat three times a day. If they’re disappearing faster, then I add more. (Assuming they’re not escaping – escaped crickets can pose a serious risk to small chameleons).
      If it is a Veiled, then you should give it one day without food a week. If you overfeed a young Veiled, you risk MBD.
      It’s a balance and impossible to give hard and fast rules without knowing all the factors.
      Send me an email if you want to discuss your chameleon in more detail.

  9. Hi
    My name is Anneline and I need your help. A week ago I rescued a camelion from birds. The birds already pecked out one eye and she was badly injured. I know it is a female, because two days ago she laid eggs. the problem I have is it looks like she is blind. she does not catch food and every tine I put her in a tree she goes black. the only time she is green is when she is in a ball in my hand. The idea was to nurse her and release her, but now I don’t know if it is possible.

    The only time she eats is when you open her mouth and put the cricket in her mouth. It is a local species and I do believe she should go back to the wild.

    The problem I have is I don’t know how to proparly care for her or what to do with the eggs. She is not opening the one eye she has even when she is walking around and she keeps on falling out of the tree/bushes that I put her in.
    Please can you give me any advice. I need to know how much and how often to feed her and how to give her water and what to do with the eggs.

    thanks
    Anneline

    1. Hi, I’m sorry to hear about the sad state of the chameleon. I’m not a vet, so my advice is based on my experience, not a trained background.
      My first thought would be to forget the eggs. Did she lay them in soil or simply drop them on the floor. If they’ve been on the ground for 2 days, they may not hatch anyway. The other problem is knowing whether she laid all of the eggs she was carrying. If she laid them in soil, the chances are higher the eggs are viable and they were all laid. But incubating them may not be a task you want to undertake. And once you have the babies, then what? You can’t really release them into the wild nor can you sell them.
      I had a Cape Dwarf female that was attacked by birds. As far as I could tell both eyes had been pecked out. All that was left were nasty black scabs. She was gravid, so over the next few months I hand fed her with crickets and made sure she was given adequate water by hand. She survived ok and after several weeks the scabs fell off her eyes and -much to my surprise- she opened her eyes!! Apparently, when attacked by birds, some chameleons can somehow protect their eyes if the attack is not too severe. Later, she gave birth to her babies and lived a few more years. Perhaps a similar situation to yours?
      If you do decide to keep her (assuming she is a Flap Neck), treat her like a Veiled chameleon. Check out the care sheets for that species. She will need to be in some sort of cage and stress will be the biggest danger. All the normal care for Veileds will be needed – adequate food, calcium, vitamins, water, UV lights. I wouldn’t bother with any heating. She doesn’t need it at this time of year and would bash into it anyway. If/when her bad eye heals, you can release her. I have read of chameleons that have survived with one eye.
      Please send me an email if you have any questions.

    1. Thanks for the question. It’s a common one. And sadly, one I can’t answer. Paradise Pets near Game, Fourways was always reliable. And so were Reptilians in Bryanston. But it’s been a few years since I was there, so I can’t be sure they still stock chameleons.
      Another option is http://www.sareptiles.co.za There is a wants/for sale section. Again, I can’t comment on the quality of what’s for sale.
      Are there any chameleon breeders in SA who want to contact me?

      1. Questions about food, cages, etc.

        Hi ???? David: it’s very important to know how are they live. and what do they eat, the temperature. what kind of a cage do they live in, and how do you breed them. and where can I buy one.
        Thanks:

        1. You must get good information

          I agree 100%. Too often people buy a chameleon and then ask the questions. I’ve had people at shows in SA come up to me with a baby Veiled they bought from another stall and ask what they feed on!
          That’s one of the reasons why I produced this website, so that basic information was available.
          I have also written a short ebook – The Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Exotic Chameleons. It’s available from Amazon at the lowest price they allow. It covers all the basics, like cages, food, water, temperatures, UV lights, where to buy and what to look out for and lots more.

          1. Are there specifically South Africa-only chameleons. I mean prelude indigenous. Growing up in Pretoria in the 1950s I saw chameleons all the time. Now they’re gone. I want to reintroduce them into my habitat but what about ha de dahs and other predatory birds. Not to mention black people whom I believe hate them and kill them at every opportunity

            1. Hi, there are many wonderful indigenous species. The one you refer to is probably the Flap Neck. You’ll need to liaise with Nature Conservation about reintroducing them as it is illegal to own or breed indigenous species.

              The cause of their disappearance is not fully understood but is likely to be habitat destruction, overuse of insecticides and, to a lesser extent, urbanisation that has brought in cats/dogs and high walls, mixing predators with difficulty moving about.

              In wild areas, like my game farm, there was an abundance of chameleons. But in Lonehill it was very unusual to see any.

              I have had known some eager chameleon keepers who were black, so I suspect the superstitions of old have less to do with their loss than the other factors mentioned. Undoubtedly, some are caught and sold on the roadside but that won’t impact whole populations.

              I hope you get to see some in your area and it would lovely to think Nature Conservation would work with you to bring that about. (But experience with them prevents me from being overly optimistic!)

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