An uncertain future
Becoming aware of their vulnerability
Chameleons are more threatened than other reptiles
Although not all chameleon species have yet been assessed by the IUCN, it is likely that the level of threats to chameleons is higher than for other lizards. This increased vulnerability is linked, on the one hand, to the fact that a number of species are endemic to small geographical areas and, on the other, to the fact that many species inhabit tropical forests, which are themselves under threat. Finally, the regions that concentrate the greatest diversity of chameleons are also those under the greatest anthropogenic pressure (Jenkins et al. 2014).
According to the current IUCN Red List assessment, 38% of chameleon species are threatened with extinction, compared with only 18% of reptiles in general.
Species particularly sensitive to global warming
A number of species of chameleon are adapted to mountainous regions and are therefore particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Cold-adapted animals are forced to shift their geographic distribution upwards to cope with rising temperatures. What's more, the slow-moving nature of chameleons may make them less able than other animals to move to more suitable areas. These mountain species could also find themselves unable to find suitable new habitats and become extinct. The effects of climate change are difficult to predict, but in the long term, there is no doubt that human-induced climate change will have an impact on chameleon habitats (Jenkins et al. 2014).
Habitat loss is the biggest threat
Habitat loss is the greatest immediate and acute threat to biodiversity worldwide (Myers et al., 2000; Butchart et al., 2010). Many chameleon species have restricted geographical distributions, often endemic to a single forest, mountain or locality, and are also highly dependent on specific habitat types and vegetation. These factors mean that these animals are likely to have great difficulty coping with habitat destruction and fragmentation.
Conservation to protect them
"Given current extinction trends, the number of species requiring conservation breeding programs is likely to increase dramatically" (Conde 2013)
Conservation of the world's chameleons will depend heavily on our ability to generate sufficient data on biological/environmental requirements, threats and their effects on populations over the next few years. Current information suggests that chameleons may face a higher level of threats than reptiles in general, partly because of ongoing trade, but also because of their restricted distribution in declining forest habitats.
While we are poorly informed about how current chameleon populations can be conserved, we are completely unaware of what the effects of climate change could bring to these unusual arboreal lizards.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes the considerable importance of the resources dedicated worldwide to ex situ conservation by zoos, genebanks and other ex situ institutions. Effective use of these resources is an essential component of conservation strategies at all levels (IUCN 2002).
Butchart, S.H.M., et al.2010. Global biodiversity: indicators of recent declines. Science 328:1164–1168.
Conde DA, Colchero F, Gusset M, Pearce-Kelly P, Byers O, Flesness N, et al. 2013. Zoos through the Lens of the IUCN Red List: A Global Metapopulation Approach to Support Conservation Breeding Programs. PLoS ONE 8(12): e80311. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0080311
IUCN. 2002. Technical Guidelines on the Management of Ex-situ Populations for Conservation.
Jenkins et al. 2014. Chameleon Conservation. In book : Krystal et Herrel: The Biology of Chaameleons. University of California Press: 193-214.
Myers et al. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403:853–858.