Chameleons defy death

Snake park hopes extraordinary story attracts more visitors

15 May 2020 | Local News

Swakopmund • [email protected]

They are tiny, slightly unbalanced on their feet and yet very feisty.

Six Namaqua chameleons that are common in the desert close to Swakopmund, have hatched at the local snake park. However, their story borders on the bizarre.

According to the owner of the park, Stretch Combrink, a Swakopmund resident discovered a mature, but weak chameleon in the desert near the town in September 2019 and brought it to the park. Combrink in turn handed the reptile to Chantelle Bosch, a local tour guide who travels into the barren desert on a regular basis. She has been taking care of injured chameleons for many years.

“The mother died a few days later,” Bosch said.

Initially she wanted to return the dead reptile to the desert, but at the end of September she decided to perform an autopsy on the animal instead.

By then the chameleon had been dead for three days. Not only did she discover that the chameleon was riddled with living worms, but also nine underdeveloped eggs.

At first she was not sure whether the eggs were still viable, especially since they had spent days in the dead mother.

Still, she placed the eggs in an incubator at the snake park and miraculously, seven continued developing.

Eight months later, six chameleons hatched.

“We have been informed by American colleagues that it is extremely rare to get viable eggs from a dead chameleon,” Combrink said.

After hatching, the babies barely weighed two grams. But now they are a week old and are developing well.

“As soon as the little ones have molted, we will let them go in the desert again,” he said.

Namaqua chameleons are unique in many ways and are part of the so-called “little five”.

They are also the fastest type of chameleon on land and usually are quite dark in colour during the morning when it is cool. Once the midday heat picks up, they change to a lighter hue to stay cool.

“However, not much is known about these chameleons yet,” snake park co-owner Angela Curtis, said. “For example, we don’t know how old they actually become.”

The Swakopmund snake park is the only public park of its kind in Namibia. Not only do they house different types of snakes, but also other reptiles, insects, spiders and scorpions.

“We had no income for two months because of the corona crisis,” Combrink said. He hopes that the unique chameleon story will attract more visitors. “Otherwise we don't know how to keep our heads above water.”

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