Chameleon Care &

Information Center (CCIC)


Trade Status & Info

The family Chamaeleonidae is a highly controversial group of taxa in the international trade of reptiles. Most species are infrequently bred in captivity with any reoccurring reliability and frequency. With the exception of the yemen chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus), the panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) and less commonly the Jackson’s chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii xantholophus), most chameleon species are infrequently available as captive bred (CB) individuals. Instead, large numbers of chameleons are collected from the wild, exported to other countries and sold into the animal trade. This process is very stressful on the animals resulting in low long term survival rates in captive collections and high rates of importation mortalities. In general, almost all veiled chameleons (Ch. calyptratus) available in the trade are CB. Additionally, many panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) are bred in captivity every year and sold to the public, however, 2000 individual wild caught (WC) F. pardalis are exported from Madagascar annually. T. jacksonii xantholophus are often available as CB individuals but a large number are actually coming from the feral population of wild animals in Hawaii and potentially other locations. All other species are generally available only as WC specimens with the occasional, albeit infrequent, CB specimens sold by some individuals and breeders. This fact should not be ignored when considering the purchase of new specimens.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is responsible for monitoring the trade of plants and animals in an effort to ensure that their trade does not threaten their survival in the wild. It is an international agreement by which party states (166 nations worldwide) abide by their trade management recommendations. The CITES management authorities rate the need for species protection by assigning taxa to one of three appendices. When a species is assigned to a CITES appendix, captive bred and wild caught animals alike have the same trade requirements.

Appendix I is the highest level of trade management protection. Species listed under this appendix are considered to be in a group of the most vulnerable species to extinction. As a result, international trade is highly monitored and regulated. Import permits are required by the management authority of the country of import. These are issued only in cases where commercial purposes are not a factor of the importation and it can be shown that the purposes are not detrimental to the species survival and the recipient is qualified to house and care for the animal. In addition, an export or re-export permit from the exporting nation’s management authority is required. This is issued only when it can be shown that the specimen was of legal acquisition, the trade will not be detrimental to species survival and an import permit has already been issued. Currently, only a single chameleon species, Brookesia perarmata, is listed under appendix I of CITES. As a result, B. perarmata is no longer exported from Madagascar and the captive population has since diminished dramatically due to a lack of ongoing success in its propagation and maintenance.

Appendix II includes taxa that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but which require trade management to ensure overexploitation does not effect their species survival. With these species, an export or re-export permit is required and issued only when a specimen was legally obtained and its trade will not effect the species survival. Currently, all chameleon species, with the exception of Brookesia perarmata and the members of the Rhampholeon and Rieppeleon genera, are listed on CITES appendix II. As a result, the international trade of all Bradypodion, Brookesia (excluding B. perarmata), Calumma, Chamaeleo, Furcifer, Trioceros, Kinyongia and Nadzikambia species is monitored by this appendix. CITES export papers are required and in some cases, trade is suspended to ensure the safety of their wild survival. It should be noted that at the time of writing, the reclassification of Bradypodion spinosum to Rhampholeon spinosus and the recommended reclassification of the Rhampholeon genus by Matthee et. al. has not been recognized by the CITES management authorities and as a result, R. spinosus is still covered under appendix II as B. spinosum but all other Rhampholeon and Rieppeleon species are not listed under CITES.

Appendix III contains species that are protected in some countries which have asked other party states for aid in controlling the trade. No chameleons are currently listed on CITES appendix III.

CITES has commonly exercised two trade management strategies to protect wild chameleon populations. The first strategy is to recommend a suspension of imports of particular species from their country of origin. A well known case of such action occurred in 1995 when it was recommended that the party states suspend export of all Calumma species and all Furcifer species (with the exception of F. pardalis, F. lateralis, F. oustaleti and F. verrucosus) from Madagascar pending scientific studies on the impact of trade on the other species. Since that time, no Calumma or Furcifer species (excluding the aforementioned species) can be legally imported from Madagascar to a party state. It is important to note however that this does not include specimens exported from Madagascar prior to the export ban nor does it include CB specimens from WC parents imported legally prior to the ban. A second strategy that is used to manage the trade in chameleons is the use of quotas to limit the numbers of a particular species exported. 2009 export quotas can be found on the following CITES URL:

The impact of animal trade on wild populations is a significant concern. Between 1986 and 1999, 770,358 chameleons entered the pet trade according to import and export data collected by the CITES World Conservation Monitoring Centre and compiled by the Chameleon Information Network (CIN) in 2001. It is important to note that these numbers do not indicate the actual numbers taken from the wild. Many chameleons die in their country of origin between collection and exportation and these specimens do not enter into the reported numbers. The conditions under which chameleons are locally collected, sent to exporters facilities and housed prior to exportation are often very poor resulting in high mortality rates, poor health, injury and suffering. Some species are exported in higher numbers than others which often results in lower purchasing value which unfortunately often leads to further decreased conditions. Between 1987 and 1999, 177,733 Chamaeleo senegalensis were exported from their countries of origin in addition to countless which died before they could be counted. It is important to note that this species is still exported in high numbers and to this day, is very rarely successfully bred in captivity and the vast majority of imported specimens die after a short captive existence. All too often, realization of the percentages of chameleons that die after export does not hit us until exportation is ceased and we begin to see the captive populations plummet in the absence of renewable bloodlines. This was observed with many Malagasy species after the 1995 CITES recommendation. Calumma globifer is known to be able to live over 14 years in captivity (Abate, pers. comm.) yet of the 3265 specimens imported between 1986 and 1996, few survived a few years after the ban. Calumma p. parsonii is known to be able to live upwards of 20 years yet of the nearly 19,000 imported between 1986 and 1999, few of these survived in captivity more than a few years after the ban.

In light of our poor track record and its impact on wild populations, it is critical that we decrease these exportation rates. Allowing a species to be exploited to the point of needing CITES appendix I protection is unacceptable. Relying on the CITES management authorities to accurately determine the protection requirements of every species is a guaranteed way to lose species due simply to the inability of CITES or any single organization to fully understand the plight of every species and population. As the consumers of chameleons, we have a few choices. First, we could decide to accept the extinction of many species as a result of our own unwillingness to consume less and live with the fact that their extinctions were in large part due to our own actions. Secondly, we could move to have all exportation banned and in doing so, decide to remove our adverse exploitation impact from wild populations. Finally, we could make steps to increase our captive breeding successes and decrease the mortalities of chameleons in captivity and during collection by increasing our awareness of their needs and requirements and providing for them. An important step in the latter circumstance is the realization that each of us has a part on the impact of wild chameleons and only by making sure to be extremely careful in our chameleon related endeavors can we hope to maintain the ability to care for these animals without destroying them in the wild. It is vital to only purchase animals you have the true, not perceived, ability to care for properly and to take extreme care when acquiring specimens to understand where they are coming from and react accordingly. At this time, I’ve chosen to do my best to increase awareness and education efforts to help chameleon survival rates but it should not be ignored that active efforts are being made to end the trade in wild chameleons and if need be, captive bred animals as well.


Abate, A. (2001): The fate of Wild-Caught Chameleons Exported for the Pet Trade.-CIN 41: 15-18.
 CITES Websites, 10/4/04:

International Trade