Worlds Oldest Zoo Gets Extremely Rare Chameleons To Breed After They Were Smuggled Onto Flight From Africa In Socks

The self-proclaimed world’s oldest zoo has achieved great conservation and breeding results with over 70 extremely rare chameleons that were stuffed into socks and ice-cream boxes and smuggled in a suitcase from Tanzania last year.

The Tiergarten Schoenbrunn Zoo, located in Austria’s capital Vienna, provided home for 74 rare chameleons that were brought to the zoo after customs discovered them while X-raying a man’s suitcase in January 2021.

The police then reported that a man who was initially travelling from Tanzania via the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa had collected the lizards from the Usambara Mountains in East Africa.

Over 70 protected species of chameleons, discovered in suitcases at Vienna Airport. (BMF, Zoll/Newsflash)

Additionally, he had intended to sell them on the black market for EUR 37,000 (GBP 30,900).

The man was immediately arrested at Vienna International Airport, while the majority of the chameleons were brought to the zoo so they could be given appropriate accommodation and a veterinary examination.

Among the 74 chameleons, there were some extremely rare species, such as the giant monkey-tailed east Usambara two-horned chameleon (Kinyongia matschiei), the Usambara two-horned chameleon (Kinyongia vosseleri), the Nguru pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon acuminatus) and the sharp-nosed chameleon (Kinyongia oxyrhina).

Evidence that the suspect was transporting 74 protected species of chameleons in various clothing. (BMF, Zoll/Newsflash)

These four species are listed from ‘near-threatened’ to ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to habitat destruction and illegal hunting.

District manager Inez Walter told Newsflash: “Chameleons are loners and therefore have to be kept and fed individually, they only come together to mate. Caring for these demanding animals is a particular challenge for us, but it pays off.”

The zoo officials were very pleased after they welcomed over 80 offspring of the critically-endangered Nguru pygmy chameleons last year.

Over 70 protected species of chameleons, discovered in suitcases at Vienna Airport. (BMF, Zoll/Newsflash)

They reported that the adult animals of the species are just under six centimetres tall, while their young ones only measure one centimetre in size, with a half-centimetre-long tail.

Zoo director Stephan Hering-Hagenbeck said: “The Nguru pygmy chameleon is bred in only one other zoo in the world besides ours. We are therefore particularly proud that the work of our team of specialists was rewarded so quickly with this breeding success.”

He added: “We hope to be able to build up reserve populations outside of the threatened natural habitat with our offspring in order to counteract the extinction of these species.”

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