Chameleons back


When we moved into our home 28 years ago, the garden was full of these fellows, always a welcome find and especially fascinating for our children who would coax them onto a stick and watch them make their way gingerly up the length, their reaching hands opening and closing in neat mitts, the tips of their tails finding purchase in elegant curls. Like a tiny package of surprises, every part of  a chameleon is worthy of  comment, from their spectacularly vivid colour and dragon ridges and old men heads with slit eyes roving independently in heavy lidded orbs to the skinny little ribs that pump through the flanks. And oh! when they flash open their mouth – the inside is draped like a membranous orange sail over a ridge pole. And then a dart out of that did-you-see-it-or-not? tongue. Any insects caught?

The combinations are entrancing: tough and delicate,  prehistoric and newly minted (the bright green livery encasing the small bodies), scary and cute.

Then after a decade, they disappeared. One day we woke up to the fact that we had not come across a chameleon for over a year or more. We actively searched for them in our garden and hedge to no avail. We pondered if it was our pets, in particular our cat, who had hunted them out. No evidence of that, though. Perhaps it was the changes in our neighbourhood…Was this environmental melt down?

To our disgust, all around us in the streets of the American presidents, hedges of Tecomaria Capensis were being replaced with vibracrete fences at a rate of dizzy knots. Except ours of course. We would hold on forever to our 12 foot high ‘green mamba’ despite maintenance and watering costs. We plotted a campaign: putting up signs on street corners not THIS WAY TO THE SHOW HOUSE but BE HEDGE AWARE, we envisioned conferring on householders with the best of the remaining hedges a special prize, a little ceramic hedgehog. Still no chameleons on our hedge. You would think that if it was the fault of vibracrete, all the neighbourhood chameleons would have flocked to our green corner, a kind of suburban reptilian great march.

In the late 90s, thankfully vibracrete went out of fashion and it was the beginning of of the iron palings decade (although our area still has a fair number of wobbly, mouldy, grey specimens in couldn’t-be-bothered or can’t-afford homes). Now, a walk through the streets is rather like going to the zoo but instead of wild animals we have caged BMWs and Polos on display. Also, plants have made a bit of a come-back as a second skin behind the iron palings.

And sure enough, the chameleons are back. This morning when I was watering, I saw this bright fellow. (Note the water droplets caught in the line of back ridges.) Maybe it has nothing to do with hedges or plants or even cats too old and lazy to hunt and the reason for their return is due to factors I shall never uncover, but I am very glad that I do see the odd chameleons in my garden now. They are always very welcome.

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