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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Another, nastier lizard found

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

KAHULUI, Maui — State wildlife officials here have identified a new alien species and are worried more of them are out there.

A veiled chameleon — a larger cousin of the Jackson's chameleon and a greater threat to Hawai'i's environment — was found last week in an agricultural field above Ka'anapali and turned in to state wildlife officials.

While the 16 1/2-inch reptile had been dead for at least a week, it is cause for concern because it was found in a remote area away from residences. This may indicate the animal was intentionally released, or worse, that it is part of a population illegally introduced to the area for breeding and selling.

"This is exactly how the Jackson's chameleons naturalized in Hawai'i so quickly,'' said Fern Duvall, state wildlife biologist on Maui. "People were intentionally releasing them in new locations so that new breeding populations could be established. They would then go in and collect them to sell in the pet trade.''

It is illegal in Hawai'i to import, have or sell veiled chameleons, a native of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and a hot commodity in the national pet industry right now.

The colorful reptile with a 3-inch shark-fin-like shield on its head can grow as large as 24 inches, or twice the size of a Jackson's chameleon. Colors are variable and can change from white to black, gray, brown, green, blue, orange, red and yellow, but they usually have obvious transverse stripes.

Officials said the veiled chameleon is a greater threat to Hawai'i's environment than the insect-eating Jackson's chameleon because of its size, diet and ability to live at almost any elevation. The veiled chameleon not only is a predator of insects, but it eats plants and its size allows it to also take small mammals and birds.

Maui residents are now being asked to keep an eye out and report any sightings to the state Department of Agriculture and the Department of Land and Natural Resources.