Lo­cal gu­ar­di­an of the Knys­na dwarf cha­me­le­on

Knysna-Plett Herald - - Sport - Ya­seen Gaf­far

The in­tri­ca­te li­fe of the Knys­na dwarf cha­me­le­on con­sti­tu­tes one of na­tu­re’s fas­ci­na­ting dis­plays and e­qual­ly im­pres­si­ve is the time and ef­fort put in­to their pre­ser­va­ti­on and wel­l­being by a de­di­ca­ted, self-ap­poin­ted Knys­na “cha­me­li­a­nist”.

For the past 15 y­e­ars, lo­cal re­si­dent Al­do K­leyn has spent thou­sands of hours pro­tecting, nur­tu­ring, ca­ring and re­ha­bi­li­ta­ting w­hat has be­co­me an en­dan­ge­red spe­cies in Knys­na.

K­leyn, who mo­ved to Knys­na from New York in the mont­hs that fol­lo­wed the 9/11 at­tack on the T­win To­wers, re­calls a par­ti­cu­lar day w­hen he was sit­ting at a re­stau­rant in Me­mo­ri­al S­qua­re back in 2003, so­me days af­ter his ar­ri­val in to­wn. “I had seen a litt­le cha­me­le­on cros­sing the ro­ad, pro­ba­bly to get to the tree on the ot­her si­de. I wa­t­ched him ca­re­ful­ly and ad­mi­red the litt­le c­re­a­tu­re, but then a car d­ri­ve o­ver him. I ran o­ver and pic­ked him up, just a man­gle of me­at. He tur­ned black, the mouth fo­a­med and the cha­me­le­on died. That mo­ment just s­par­ked so­mething in­si­de of me, I knew rig­ht then that so­mething must be do­ne to pro­tect the­se cre­a­tu­res.”

The be­gin­ning of a le­ga­cy

K­leyn says he felt sor­ry for the cha­me­le­on that just died, and wan­ted to gain mo­re in­for­ma­ti­on on spe­ci­fi­cal­ly the Knys­na dwarf cha­me­le­on. But de­tails on their li­ves we­re li­mi­ted, so K­leyn went out se­ar­ching for his own cha­me­le­ons.

He found a month-old ba­by fe­ma­le cha­me­le­on, and a few weeks la­ter found a litt­le ma­le.

“So now I had t­his cu­te litt­le cou­ple who li­ved in my gar­den be­t­ween a le­mon and

fi­cus tree. I gai­ned so­me in­for­ma­ti­on on how to look af­ter them and a­bout a ye­ar la­ter the fe­ma­le ga­ve birth to eig­ht ba­bies,” says K­leyn. But w­hat he saw next would chan­ge his en­ti­re per­specti­ve on look­ing af­ter cha­me­le­ons. “T­his cou­cal bi­rd lan­ded in my gar­den and ate all the ba­bies,” says K­leyn. “T­his f­re­a­ked me out, so I de­ci­ded to build a net­ting en­clo­su­re that would bet­ter pro­tect the ba­bies. A ye­ar la­ter, the fe­ma­le ga­ve birth a­gain, t­his time to 13 ba­bies.”

And so the family grows

As the ba­bies grew and bred with each ot­her, so did the si­ze of the en­clo­su­re w­he­re t­hey we­re kept. By t­his time K­leyn had gai­ned in­va­lu­a­ble kno­w­led­ge re­gar­ding the sa­fe­ty of the Knys­na dwarf cha­me­le­on, their ha­bits and ha­bi­tat, needs and diet re­qui­re­ments. “I re­a­li­sed that t­hey ha­ve lots of na­tu­ral pre­da­tors, par­ti­cu­lar­ly ma­ny spe­cies of bi­rds. But the big­ge­st pre­da­tor is hu­mans. We’ve built up t­his a­rea and the na­tu­ral ha­bi­tat of the­se cre­a­tu­res is shrin­king, for­cing them in­to o­pen spa­ces w­he­re t­hey be­co­me e­a­sy prey.”

The cha­me­le­ons are fed with grass­hop­pers that are sup­p­lied to K­leyn from a farm in Ka­ra­ta­ra, me­al worms, cric­kets and flies that are at­trac­ted to the sanc­tu­a­ry by a stink bo­wl – a con­cocti­on of fish and fruit hung ne­ar the cha­me­le­ons. K­leyn says it star­ted as an in­te­res­ting hob­by to le­arn a­bout the Knys­na dwarf cha­me­le­on but has now e­vol­ved in­to a pas­si­on to pro­tect them, be­co­me their guar­di­ans and en­s­u­re their sur­vi­val.

Most re­le­a­sed back in­to wild

“I’m an a­ni­mal lo­ver. I lo­ve all of God’s cre­a­ti­ons. Du­ring the first three y­e­ars of star­ting t­his sanc­tu­a­ry, I’ve re­le­a­sed mo­re than 200 ba­bies in­to the wild. Of all the cha­me­le­ons I’ve bred, a­bout 95% is re­le­a­sed in the Knys­na fo­rest,” K­leyn says.

He al­so cla­ri­fies the co­lour­chan­ging a­bi­li­ties of cha­me­le­ons and sta­tes that t­hey don’t chan­ge co­lour to ca­mou­fla­ge them­sel­ves but rat­her to com­mu­ni­ca­te. “T­hey ex­press them­sel­ves through co­lour. W­hen t­hey are in a good mood t­hey turn brig­ht tur­quoi­se, oran­ge, w­hi­te, blue and all sorts of co­lours. W­hen de­pres­sed or in trau­ma t­hey turn dark co­lours, mos­t­ly black. T­hey al­so ha­ve in­cre­di­ble ey­e­sig­ht, and no­ti­ce each ot­her from long dis­tan­ces. T­hey com­mu­ni­ca­te with each ot­her through co­lours.”

K­leyn, who is a fi­re victim of the Ju­ne 2017 in­fer­no, lost his ho­me in Pa­ra­di­se al­ong with 80 cha­me­le­ons who didn’t sur­vi­ve. In the weeks that fol­lo­wed, hund­reds of pe­op­le a­round Knys­na found in­ju­red cha­me­le­ons, so­me blin­ded due to burns, ot­hers wit­hout a tail or front legs.

“I took the­se cha­me­le­on fi­re victims in, built a new sanc­tu­a­ry, and hel­ped them re­ha­bi­li­ta­te. Ma­ny of them sur­vi­ved, and ot­hers he­a­led with re­me­dies es­pe­ci­al­ly pre­pa­red by Dr A­nus­ka Vil­joen of Sed­ge­field. So­me cha­me­le­ons got re­al­ly he­althy and fat, and the fe­ma­les we­re re­pro­du­cing. It was an in­cre­di­ble re­co­ve­ry.”

Rai­sing pu­blic a­wa­re­ness

K­leyn says he star­ted the Fa­ce­book pa­ge Knys­na Dwarf Cha­me­le­ons to rai­se a­wa­re­ness on the plig­ht of the c­re­a­tu­re, and to share ad­vi­ce and in­for­ma­ti­on on how to ca­re for them.

“The re­spon­se from the com­mu­ni­ty has been ab­so­lu­te­ly in­cre­di­ble. Pe­op­le lo­ve the­se cha­me­le­ons and con­ti­nue to sho­wer prai­se and ap­pre­ci­a­ti­on on the sanc­tu­a­ry for high­lig­hting the im­por­tan­ce of their sur­vi­val,” says K­leyn, who adds that the pu­blic in­te­rest has led to the de­ci­si­on of o­pe­ning a re­ha­bi­li­ta­ti­on sanc­tu­a­ry w­he­re the pu­blic would be wel­co­me to vi­sit, as well as s­chool e­du­ca­ti­on tour groups. “We ha­ve pur­cha­sed a pro­per­ty at Eas­t­ford, w­he­re cur­rent­ly all the a­lien plants are being re­mo­ved. We plan to turn t­his in­to a cha­me­le­on sanc­tu­a­ry w­he­re the pu­blic will be wel­co­me. It will be run by trai­ned ex­perts and vo­lun­teers, all of w­hom share the sa­me pas­si­on as my­self w­hen it co­mes to the Knys­na dwarf cha­me­le­on. T­his is work in pro­gress but ho­pe­ful­ly it will be up and o­pen re­al­ly soon,” says K­leyn.

He con­clu­des by saying that mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty are wel­co­me to bring any Knys­na dwarf cha­me­le­on to his sanc­tu­a­ry, or he can pick them up a­ny­w­he­re in Knys­na. He is al­so a­vai­la­ble should pe­op­le need ad­vi­ce on ca­ring for the­se cre­a­tu­res. Klein says ma­ny pe­op­le do not know that com­mon pes­ti­ci­des u­sed in gar­dens poi­son the food that cha­me­le­ons eat, which in turn kills the cha­me­le­ons.

“I’m trying in my s­mall litt­le way to sa­ve the spe­cies, and for t­his re­a­son I ha­ve ta­ken it upon my­self to de­di­ca­te all my free time to their wel­l­being.”

Find out mo­re

Con­tact K­leyn on 073 299 0598, or Knys­na Dwarf Cha­me­le­ons on Fa­ce­book.

P­ho­to: Sup­p­lied

Al­do K­leyn has been bree­ding Knys­na dwarf cha­me­le­ons for o­ver 15 y­e­ars.

P­ho­to: Sup­p­lied

Litt­le ba­by cha­me­le­ons born at K­leyn’s re­ha­bi­li­ta­ti­on sanc­tu­a­ry.

P­ho­to: FB/Knys­na Dwarf Cha­me­le­on

The Knys­na Dwarf Cha­me­le­on.

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