One of the rarest and smallest chameleons in the world, a creature feared to go extinct, has been found clinging to life in the rainforests of Africa. Now scientists are calling for an urgent conservation effort to save critically endangered species from extinction before it’s too late.
Chapman’s pygmy chameleon, which grows to only 2 inches (5.5 centimeters) long, was first described in 1992, but it was not seen again for years. Much of its native habitat, the forest in the Malawi hills, has been cut down for growing crops, and conservationists are concerned that the species may not have survived deforestation.
A team from South Africa National Institute of Biodiversity and the Malawi Museums I inspected the remaining patches of forest in hopes of finding some still alive. Walking along trails at night using torchlight, they spotted their first pygmy chameleon at the edge of the forest and exploded in joyous surprise.
“When we found it, we got goose bumps and we started jumping,” said Professor Krystal Tolley of the South African National Institute of Biodiversity and the University of the Witwatersrand in a statement. “We didn’t know if we were going to have more, but once we got to the forest there were a lot of them, although I don’t know how long it will last.”
The team went on their field expedition in 2016, but published their findings Monday in Oryx – The International Conservation Review. The study details how the team compared current satellite images of the Malawi hills with images taken in the 1980s to assess the extent of habitat loss, then turned to the crowdfunding platform RocketHub to raise money for their efforts. of topography. They raised $ 5,670 (roughly £ 4,150, AU $ 7,824), enough to scour two patches of high-rise forest in search of the creatures, which live on the forest floor and blend in with dead leaves for camouflage.
Chameleons are among the world’s most threatened reptiles, with at least a third of all species threatened with extinction, says Christopher V. Anderson, assistant professor of biology at the University of South Dakota and president of the International Union for Nature Conservation Chameleon Specialist Group, a network of volunteers who support the conservation of wild chameleons and their habitats. In the forests of mainland Africa, there are five critically endangered species of chameleons in the forests of mainland Africa, according to the study, and all are threatened by forest loss.
The pygmy chameleon has its ardent fans. “They are gentle little creatures,” Tolley said. “Other species of chameleons can be hysterical, hissing and biting, but pygmy chameleons they are gentle and just beautiful. ”
But the future of the reptile, which is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red list of endangered species, It is uncertain.
The survey team recorded the location of each chameleon, took small tissue samples from the tails of the males for genetic analysis, and then returned the reptiles to the perches where they were found. DNA analysis suggests that they are trapped in their patches of forest, isolated from each other, and unable to move between patches of forest to reproduce.
“Forest loss requires immediate attention before this species reaches a point from which it cannot return,” said Tolley, who recommends turning the remaining forest into part of the nearby Matandwe Forest Reserve so that it can be proclaimed a Key Area for Biodiversity, and then introduce strong measures to ensure its protection.
“Urgent conservation actions are needed, including stopping forest destruction and habitat restoration to promote connectivity,” Tolley added, and Anderson noted that a preliminary action plan is being developed for the species.
Some might wonder why they should be concerned about danger from one chameleon or another. But the loss of one species can affect an entire ecosystem.
“While it may seem unimportant if we lose one species of salamander or rat, it is important because all species are connected through their interactions in a web of life.” explains the Columbia University School of Climate. “A balanced and biodiverse ecosystem is one in which each species plays an important role and depends on the services provided by other species to survive.”