Residents rally to save chameleons

About 50 residents, some with UV lights, helped search and rescue the chameleons in Sunset Beach. Picture: Alex Aitenhead

Sunset Beach residents haven’t done their karma any harm by banding together to rescue chameleons from a construction site.

The Cape dwarf chameleon is classified as a “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. These are species that are likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.

Nearly 50 of the chameleons now live in a safer part of Sunset Beach after residents moved them from an empty plot due to be built on.

Earlier this year the City of Cape Town appealed to the public to protect the species, which is native to the Western Cape.

They are viviparous and can have several clutches of 10 to 15 offspring in a year.

Joshua Rubin has been trying to rescue chameleons like this from a vacant piece of land in his neighbourhood since the beginning of lockdown.

He has been photographing creatures in the area since he was 10 and holds a particular fascination for the chameleons.

“There’s a plot next to our house. It’s always been vacant, but ever since about eight months ago, we saw a sign that there was going to be construction there.

“Just before lockdown, we saw that there was movement on the property and it looked like work was about to begin because we saw the area was being cleared out. Thankfully for the lockdown, operations were halted so my dad and I decided that we’d go to the property and start looking for the chameleons.”

He and his father have done several of these rescue missions, catching the chameleons and moving them to nearby open bush.

When Mr Rubin noticed activity resuming on the site last week, he put out a call to his neighbours to help with the rescue operation. About 50 of them, some coming with their children, answered the call from Thursday to Monday.

When it got dark, they switched on UV lights to continue the search.

Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, encouraged those wanting to save the

Cape dwarf chameleon to use the iNaturalist app or website to upload pictures of the chameleons they find. The app helps people identify plants and animals in their surroundings.

“Residents will have better luck in finding these creatures on warmer days,” she said. “Being cold-blooded, they are more active when the sun is out and are likely to be found taking shelter deeper in vegetation on cold and windy days.”

According to the IUCN, the Cape dwarf chameleon’s population is decreasing and it is threatened by creeping residential and commercial development, farming, global climate change, and other species, including predation by household cats.

Ms Nieuwoudt said people shouldn’t move chameleons from suitable habitats and never keep them in captivity.

You can use this link to upload your chameleon findings: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/
chameleons-of-cape-town-atlas