5. Chameleon's luck

Posted: 23 March 2001

The Cape dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum) once common in the wine-growing region of Stellenbosch, South Africa, has plummeted in numbers due to the use of modern pesticides and mechanical harvesting techniques.

Cape dwarf chameleon© Drew Gardner Harvesting machines strip numerous chameleons from the vines, while others are pulped along with the grapes in mechanical crushers.

Now, however, its luck has changed due to enterprising winemaker, Gary Jordan, owner of the Jordan winery near Cape Town. "Once we realised there were so many chameleons in our vineyards, we wanted to preserve them. They are nature's own pest controllers." The chameleon once regarded as an evil omen by local farm workers feeds only on vine bugs and flies.

"All our picking is done by hand, and if we have to spray any pesticides, we do it in winter, when there are no leaves on the vines and we can see where the chameleons are."

His suppliers now use lower delivery lorries since the higher ones were knocking the reptiles from the trees lining the driveway to the vineyard.

The chameleons have become celebrities and visitors to the vineyard don't just sample the wines but also engage in a bit of chameleon-spotting.

Supporters of the South African Chameleon society are also helping to restore the reptile's fortune by offering to collect and remove them from vineyards where they are still regarded as pests. The National Parks Board has granted permission for the reptiles to be released in some of its parks, where they are tourist attractions.

Source: The Sunday Telegraph (United Kingdom), April 1998.