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