Wild-caught vs captive bred

Captive environment for a chameleon

There was a time all exotic animal pets were taken from the wild to be kept as pets. There were just no captive bred animals to buy, as people lacked the knowledge to breed them and where missing the animals to start a breeding program with. Luckily now we do have a choice, for most pets you can choose to buy a captive bred animal. For some species the other choice remains too, but it is not allowed to remove a animal of just any species from the wild. Most species are protected by law, either because they are an endangered species or because the trade was getting out of hand. Some species can only be exported with certain numbers each year, for example 2000 Panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) may be exported from Madagascar every year.

The difference between wild caught and captive bred chameleons

Basically the main differences between wild caught and captive bred chameleons are the following:

  • Captive bred chameleons are used to living in captive circumstances
  • Captive bred chameleons generally not bear parasites or diseases.
  • Wild caught chameleons could have suffered health issues during their transport
  • Wild caught chameleons could have parasites or diseases present in the wild
  • Wild caught chameleons bring new genetic material to the pet population
  • Wild caught chameleons could possibly be stronger than captive bred ones if the captive population is small and inbred.
Female captive bred veiled chameleon

Wild-caught chameleons have been taken from the wild and transported to other countries where they are traded until sold to a pet enthusiast or breeder. They could have had their health compromised by the shipment or by any parasites or diseases it might has obtained in the wild. It is not always clear what kind of diseases a wild caught animal is carrying with it. This will make them less desirable for pet enthusiasts than captive-bred chameleons. Captive-bred chameleons have been used to being kept and fed in captivity and will usually be prevented from obtaining any diseases or intestinal parasites.

For breeders wild-caught specimens can be a benefit. They represent new blood being introduced to captive bred chameleons of the same species. When captive-bred chameleons are being bred within their family (inbreeding), they could suffer from genetic diseases. Breeders do not want to inbreed their animals, but when the pet population is small there might not be another option. The deterioration of health and often of size and life span of inbred animals is called inbreeding depression. By adding a wild-caught individual to the family line the new genetic material will alleviate some of the inbreeding depression. When a chameleon species has been established in captivity for a long time, inbreeding depression will be less and less of a problem. Strong detrimental genes will have been filtered out of the gene pool and the chameleons will no longer suffer from their effects.

For some species there is no choice: they are not bred in captivity often enough to make this a stable source of new chameleons. If someone wants to obtain one of these chameleons, it has to be exported from the wild.

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Ethical reasons for choosing captive born chameleons

There are other reasons why some people are strong proponents for captive bred pet chameleons: the toll on nature and possible suffering of animals during transport.

Collecting chameleons from the wild takes a toll on nature, as the population is decreased. For most species that are allowed to be exported this does not oppose a large influence, as the animals are common. Still there is some effect on nature.

During transport all needs of the chameleons cannot be met. They are not provided with ample room, UV-B light, calcium-enriched foods, proper humidity and drinking water and the best temperatures. During transport, which can take some weeks by ship or some hours by airplane before being transferred to trucks or cars, the chameleons will not have optimal care. During export some chameleons die, making it necessary to export more chameleons than needed as pets. This increases the total bad effects per pet chameleon, as more than one chameleon had to suffer for one pet.

When a species is also readily obtain as captive bred, there is few justification for making the chameleons go through this. I think you should always go for a captive bred chameleon as a pet. Only breeders looking for new genetic material could have a good reason to buy a wild caught specimen.

Chameleon species still being exported from the wild

The following commonly kept chameleon species are still being exported from their original country. They are not endangered and are pretty common in their native area.

  • Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)
  • European chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)
  • Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
  • Jackson’s chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)

Source: www.iucnredlist.org september 2016.

Most of these species also breed very easily in captivity. It is common that the pets you find in pet shops are not wild caught but bred in captivity. The only way to know for sure is to

Species that are illegal to be exported from their natural habitat

The following species of chameleon are endangered and are therefore prohibited to be exported from their natural area. I only include the commonly kept pet chameleon species.

  • Parson’s chameleon (Calumma parsonii)
  • Two-banded chameleon (Furcifer balteatus
  • Lesser chameleon (Furcifer minor)
  • Usambara Spiny Pygmy Chameleon / Rosette-nosed Chameleon (Rhampholeon spinosus)

Source: www.iucnredlist.org september 2016.