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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

Officials on Maui discover more banned chameleons

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

A veiled chameleon rests on a branch at the U.S. Agriculture Department's Plant Quarantine office. Officials fear the lizard may have become established on Maui.

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Pest hotline

Report illegal animals to the state Pest Hotline.

O'ahu: 586-7378
Maui: (808) 984-2400, ext. 67378
Big Island: (808) 974-4000, ext. 67378
Kaua'i: (808) 274-3141, ext. 67378
Moloka'i & Lana'i: (800) 468-4644, ext. 67378

Eight more veiled chameleons were captured on Maui this week, bringing to 21 the number of the illegal lizards found or turned in on the Valley Isle since March 2002, state officials reported yesterday.

A multi-agency team from the Maui Invasive Species Committee, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Land and Natural Resources and state Department of Agriculture captured the veiled chameleons during a search of the same Makawao residential area where six were found in December.

The latest discoveries further elevate fears that a population of the chameleons is established on Maui.

The state Department of Agriculture is investigating specific individuals suspected of releasing the chameleons into the wild with the intent of establishing a breeding colony for the pet industry.

"A breeding population of veiled chameleons poses a serious threat to birds and other native wildlife in the area,'' said Sanda Lee Kunimoto of the state Department of Agriculture.

The veiled chameleons found this week include one male about 17 inches long, three males between 8 and 10 inches in length, two juvenile females and two juvenile males measuring less than 6 inches. All were found within a 330-foot area.

Also captured were 102 Jackson's chameleons, which are alien to Hawai'i but established in many areas. All the lizards captured will be sent to the Bishop Museum for study.

The first discovery of a veiled chameleon on Maui occurred when a dead one was found near Ka'anapali in March, followed by two live chameleons turned in in April and another dead chameleon found in Makawao in November.

The first multi-agency search in Makawao last month led to three more chameleons being turned in from the same area, officials said.

Veiled chameleons are popular in the pet trade but are illegal to import, possess or transport in Hawai'i. Officials said they have never been allowed to be imported to Hawai'i, not even for exhibition in municipal zoos.

Native to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the chameleons have no natural predators in Hawai'i. Biologists say their large size and ability to adapt to a variety of elevations and temperatures could help them proliferate and prey on native birds and insects.