The British Herpetological Society

Conserving the Belalanda Chameleon

In September 2009 the CBC funded an application from the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology (UK) and Madagasikara Voakajy (Madagascar), on the conservation of the very rare Belalanda Chameleon (Furcifer belalandaensis) from the SW of Madagascar. This applied project will involve thorough surveys to map the distribution and conservation status of this species, and draw up a plan for its future protection, including an assessment of whether F. belalandaensis is (i) appropriate for captive breeding and (ii) if this is feasible in the medium term. Dr Townson has written an introductory article on the Belalanda Chameleon project for the Natterjack (see issue 184-186, May-July 2010). During 2010 fieldworkers have spent considerable time surveying for these rare animals and found a new population in S. Madagascar, although the total number of animals recorded still remains very small. Prof Richard Griffiths (DICE) recently visited Madagascar re plans for the ongoing conservation and management of the Belalanda Chameleon, including discussions on ex-situ (captive breeding) options. A press release has been published in ScienceDaily.

The Belalanda Chameleon - 2011 Update

In January 2011 Madagasikara Voakajy and partners held an IUCN Red List workshop that assessed the conservation status of 74 Malagasy chameleon species. The Belalanda Chameleon (Furcifer belalandaensis) was one of four chameleons listed as Critically Endangered. Following the workshop, the project team visited southern Madagascar to assess the status and habitats of the species. At the time, the Belalanda chameleon was only known from two villages in the area, where it occurred in disturbed habitats. These habitats include non-native trees, which are sometimes used for charcoal production. Surveying for the chameleons must be done after dark, by searching trees and bushes for roosting animals using spotlights. Frequently, the chameleons are located in the upper branches of trees, but they can often be persuaded to climb onto a long stick. Following the site meeting, recommendations were made for further surveys, and a few days later a third population of Belalanda''s chameleon was discovered in another village.

In March, Madagasikara Voakajy and partners organized a three-day workshop to establish a species conservation strategy, with input from the IUCN/SSC Chameleon Specialist Group and the IUCN/SSC Sub Committee on Species Planning. The event was attended by herpetologists, politicians, managers and NGOs and the final product was a five year strategy beginning in 2012. Because Madagasikara Voakajy was already working on the species, some of the priority activities were already underway; monthly monitoring by students from the University of Toliara and molecular studies on tissues samples. A draft manuscript was produced in July, with Dr Chris Raxworthy (American Museum of Natural History) that described the morphology and ecology of F. belalandaensis. Further molecular work is underway in collaboration with Dr Raxworthy and Professor Miguel Vences (University of Braunschweig) to clarify the taxonomic position of the species. Given the precarious status of the species and the lack of knowledge about its breeding biology, captive breeding is not considered to be a priority conservation action at present.

Richard Jenkins and Richard A.Griffiths
Madagasikara Voakajy and Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology