Seeking advice for caring for a wild chameleon in distress


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Hello, my name is Jasmine and I am a US Peace Corps volunteer living in Ghana. I have some crucial and immediate questions for you, but I'd like to preface it with a quick background story about how I came to possess a wild chameleon here in Ghana.

Yesterday I was in a city called Sunyani (the regional capital of Ghana's Brong Ahafo region) and a guy on the street randomly called me over to his electronics shop and gave me a live chameleon in a box. This was around noon. I had a number of things to do in the city that day so I did only the most pressing errands as quickly as I could and then started the long bumpy journey back to my small rural village, arriving just before 7pm. At this time, I went into the bush by my house where I've seen other wild chameleons and set him free. Though by this point he was too stressed and tired to move, understandably. I tried giving him some water by putting his face into a small dish. When this was unsuccessful I tried using my hand to bring the water his mouth. He still wouldn't drink. I let him chill out there in the weeds and went to do other things, thinking he'd rest a bit and then scamper away. A few hours later I came back and found him the the same exact spot. I initially thought he was dead. He was very cold (it's a bit chilly in the evenings now during the dry season) and his eyes were closed. Afraid that he'd get too cold in his compromised state or succumb to predation, I took him inside with me. He eagerly climbed onto my warm hand. Inside, I tried again to give him water, this time endeavoring to pry open his mouth and give it to him manually with a needle-less syringe. I couldn't get his mouth open without causing him too much distress so I figured the best thing for him would be to rest. I let him climb onto a horizontal beam just under my ceiling that is covered in clothes and put a big cabbage leaf on top of the beam with water pooled in it. He clung to the clothes and slept there most of the night, eventually climbing up to the cabbage leaf. I don't know if he drank any water, but I assume so. Today he is looking better. His eyes are open and he's alert. He's been watching me all day. He's very docile and will sit wherever I put him. I tried feeding him bugs - alive and dead, but he didn't eat them. I set up a live tree branch in my room and he's now perched in that. I sprayed it with water so he could drink off of the leaves like they do in the wild. He looks pretty thin - his ribs are visible - so I'd like to get him healthier before trying to release him again.

Can anyone give me some advice as to how to care for him? I don't know how to get him to eat, or if he's getting enough water. I don't have a way to keep him warm either but since he's wild I imagine he is fine with this environment. I have never owned a chameleon before, though I've had other reptiles and I love all animals dearly. Any advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you!

P.S. I'm not sure what species he is. I have some photos of him but I don't know how to post them on here.

S.P.S. I've named him Irving (after Washington Irving, the American writer who wrote Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow).
I lived in Ethiopia 30 years ago and had a wild caught chameleon that i used to hold on my hand 6 inches from flies that he would see and eat. We also used to put him on a tree outside with a piece of fruit or something that would draw the flies and he would feed himself.
You could try putting him on a lower bush (where he can't be seen by birds flying overhead with something to attract bugs)
To post a pic you can scroll down on the page when you want to post and hit manage attachments. There is a tab that says manage attachments and will let you browse and download from your computer. As far as the water, Take the syringe and fill it with water and slowly drip the water on the end of his nose. This may take several minutes of doing before he may actually start drinking. Make sure he gets outside everyday and gets natural sunshine. Do not keep him indoors all day with no light.
Feeding Update

I just got Irving to eat 4 weaver ants and 1 weaver ant larva by opening his mouth and putting them on the edge of it, then he gobbled them right up.

He's doing pretty well now - more active, responsive and mobile. But hand feeding him is not a long-term option, so I'm hoping that with time he'll be able to eat on his own.

I chose Weaver ants because they're really easy to find here, and they seem to be pretty nutritious:

"Weaver ants are one of the most valued types of insects eaten by humans (entomophagy). In addition to being used as a biological control agent to increase plant production, weaver ants can be utilized directly as a protein and food source since the ants (especially the ant larvae) are edible and high in protein and fatty acids.[27] In some countries the weaver ant is a highly priced delicacy harvested in vast amounts and in this way contributing to local socioeconomics.[28] In North Eastern Thailand the price of weaver ant larvae is twice the price of good quality beef and in a single Thai province ant larvae worth 620.000 USD are harvested every year.[29][30] It has furthermore been shown that the harvest of weaver ants can be maintained while at the same time using the ants for biocontrol of pest insects in tropical plantations, since the queen larvae and pupae that are the primary target of harvest, are not vital for colony survival.[31] It follows that weaver ants convert damaging pest insects into valuable weaver ant biomass that can be utilized as a source of food. The ants may in this way provide double benefits to agriculture. The larvae of weaver ants are also collected commercially as an expensive feed for insect eating birds in Indonesia and the worker ants are used in traditional medicine in e.g. India and China."
You should be able to get it to drink by dripping water on the end of its nose. It takes patience.

I hope you can save it.

In Ghana you would probably either have Chamaeleo senegalensis, or C. gracilis but you could possibly also have C. necasi or C. africanus. I would be able to ID the chameleon from a couple reasonable photos from the side without a problem, so if you can figure out how to post them or email them to me (my email is in my signature below, and I would be happy to post them here for you if you sent them), I'd be happy to do that. We would also be able to give you an idea of his/her condition better from these photos (give you an idea of whether it is dehydrated vs emaciated, etc., or just showing typical chameleon build, since they don't have much fat over their ribs), as well as give you an idea of what you could do for it based on that.

Thank you all for your help and advice!

Here are some pictures I took of Irving this afternoon - two were indoors and one was of him outside on a plant while we basked in the sun for a while. He is doing so much better now. I think it was the shock of being captured and then transported around in a box for so long that really took it out of him.


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Irving is a female Graceful Chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis) and actually looks to be in excellent health and condition. You are probably correct that the stress of capture and transport was the issue. She should be releasable in her current condition and should do fine.

If you're curious about whether the other chameleons you've seen have all been the same species or if any of them have been other species, I'd be happy to take a look at any other photos you have and ID them. The species in Ghana I mentioned all look very similar and can be difficult to differentiate if you don't know what to look for.

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Hi Chris,

Thank you so much for the information! Here is another chameleon I've found here. It looks to me like a male Graceful Chameleon? I'll be releasing Irving back into the wild today.

Thanks again,


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Hi Jasmine,

I would need to see the back foot or tail base to sex it, but that is also a C. gracilis. If you look at the posterior margin of the head, you see a slight skin fold, forming what are called occipital lobes (kind of like ear flaps). This skin fold is absent in C. senegalensis and the skin instead goes smoothly from the head to the rest of the body.

Good luck releasing her today and glad we were able to help!

You are so wonderful, Jasmine! You've done something truly lovely for Irving, even without knowing much about her you've brought her back to life! She looks incredibly healthy, and happy!
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