STAR-BULLETIN FILE PHOTO / 2002
Yet another veiled chameleon found on Maui, similar to this one caught in April, has state wildlife officials concerned.
MAKAWAO, Hawaii >> A fourth veiled chameleon found at a Maui home has officials worried there may be an underground pet trade for the illegal reptile, which they say poses a threat to native birds and insects.
Mauis 4th chameleon
prompts fears of illegal trade
The dead chameleon was spotted a week ago in the compost pile of a home, near another home where a pair of live veiled chameleons was found in March.
A couple of weeks before that, another dead chameleon was found in a remote area of West Maui.
"It raises the probability that we're dealing with a population out in the wild," said Fern Duvall, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Veiled chameleons are native to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and can grow up to 2 feet long. The lizard's colors run the spectrum, but it has distinctive stripes and a bony, shark fin-like shield on its head.
"It looks like something out of a Japanese dinosaur movie," Duvall said Friday.
The chameleons are invasive species that have no natural predators, officials said.
Duvall said the reptiles do not pose a serious, direct threat to people. But the same cannot be said for birds, insects and plants, which are threatened by the animal.
The recent chameleon find has prompted the Maui Invasive Species Committee to launch an awareness campaign. MISC, a coalition of 16 nonprofit and governmental agencies, will go door-to-door in the neighborhood where three of the four chameleons were. They will alert residents about the reptile problem and, later, search for them. They will also distribute informational posters to post offices, libraries and stores to increase public awareness.
Officials are not sure how the chameleons wound up on a Pacific island far from their Middle Eastern home.
"There's speculation that people have them and they're finding difficulty keeping them in captivity or they're just escaping people's cages," Duvall said. "They are so unique-looking that it becomes like, 'I've got to have one.'"
Possession of illegal animals in Hawaii is punishable by up to $200,000 in fines and three years in jail.
But the state encourages individuals with illegal pets to turn in the animals under the Department of Agriculture's amnesty program, which provides immunity from prosecution.
"I think there should be a lot of concern," Duvall said. "It could spread over large areas of the island and have a very large biological impact."
Department of Land and Natural Resources
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