Many chameleon species native to Madagascar are threatened with extinction as a result of rapid habitat destruction. Over-collecting of specimens for the pet trade also constitutes a serious threat to many species. With the exception of the dwarf chameleons of the genus Brookesia, all of Madagascar’s chameleons are currently listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This means that export/import restrictions are in place to regulate the number of animals that are taken from the wild for the pet trade.
While Panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) are listed in Appendix II of CITES, the fact that they have adapted to live in disturbed habitat means that the species is not considered in imminent danger of extinction. In fact habitat destruction seems to favor Panther chameleon population establishment and growth, providing some trees and shrubs remain in the disturbed habitat. That said, Panther chameleons have been heavily exported in the past. Since 1999 export quotas have been set to 2000 individuals per year, which is thought to be sustainable.
It is not know if any Panther chameleon populations at different sites (locales) within the species range are in danger of disappearing due to over-collection. While a maximum export limit of 2000 individuals has been set, this quota doesn’t specify age, sex, or locality of population. Populations (distinctive by their unique patterns and coloration) of Panther chameleons that are small, more easily accessible, or contain individuals with desirable colors might therefore still be vulnerable to local extinction due to over-collecting.
A large part of the threat posed to populations by over-collecting is the high mortality rates from the time of capture to the time of export. Poorly equipped, overcrowded holding facilities with improper environmental conditions are the main cause of high mortality rates post collection. Collected animals that die prior to export are not included in the export quota, and may constitute a significant number of chameleons.
Future Conservation Recommendations
- While habitat destruction doesn’t appear to represent any threat to the Panther chameleon, the species would benefit from measures to protect habitat alongside roads and rivers.
- Continue to enforce the current annual export quota.
- Quotas should take in to account the localities where animals are being collected, and the permit system should be refined to allow collection only from populations where numbers of individuals are monitored over time.
- Legislation demanding a higher standard of exporters facilities should be adopted and enforced.
- Captive breeding programs for the pet trade should aim to avoid hybridizing Panther chameleons from different localities as hybrids have been shown to be reproductively inferior.
- Members of the public wishing to purchase a chameleon for a pet should be strongly encouraged to purchase a captive bred specimen. This would allow breeders to retain more newly exported individuals for their breeding programs, reducing the problem of inbreeding depression.