Wits honorary professor makes historic find of Chapman’s pygmy chameleons in rainforest. 

Travelling deep into the pristine recesses of what remains of the rainforests of southern Malawi, a team of scientists set out to find out if the rare Chapman’s pygmy chameleon was indeed extinct, but instead found them clinging to survival. 

Wits University honorary researcher, Professor Krystal Tolley, along with researchers from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Museums of Malawi, surveyed three locations in the Malawi Hills where the Chapman’s pygmy chameleon is endemic. 

According to Tolley, they found the chameleon on the very first night of the expedition. Thereafter, they saw dozens of them located within the forest areas not yet affected by deforestation.  

Jessica Da Silva, a postdoctoral fellow at SANBI who monitors the genetic diversity of priority species, told Wits Vuvuzela that “small population sizes… often lead to decreased levels of genetic diversity, which can make a species less resilient to a changing climate or their immediate environment.” 

Gary Brown, a volunteer on the expedition, said that “if this was in a western country, where it could be declared a protected area, and a protected species then it would be easier. In Malawi… sadly, very little is done to re plant the trees that are being cut down and trying to educate the local population to do otherwise, is an ongoing battle.” 

Brown told Wits Vuvuzela that “it was very exciting to see yet another of Malawi’s chameleons, even more so as it has been seen by only a handful of people outside the communities that live around the area.” 

The Chapman’s pygmy chameleon was classified as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, after Tolley conducted a conservation assessment in 2014.  




FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Krystal Tolley in the rainforest of Southern Malawi. Photo: Provided