The small lizard is placed in the young boy’s hand. He talks softly to it and it listens, its eyes blinking every now and again. The boy feels the touch of the lizard’s tiny fingers and toes and squeals in delight.
The veiled chameleon is unnerved by the response. It’s happy to just eat a few bugs and enjoy the warmth of the boy’s hand.
With its calm disposition, the chameleon is becoming a unique teaching tool in local schools.
For the last two years, Monika MacDermott has taken her menagerie of chameleons to classrooms with her business Chameleons Galore.
“They’re really, really friendly and the kids just love them,” says MacDermott, who also hosts birthday parties.
The focus is always on education and helping children understand the world around them.
MacDermott began her love affair with veiled chameleons when she found one 14 years ago in a Calgary alleyway, which had gotten away from its owners.
She was fascinated by the creature, and began researching everything she could about it. It wasn’t long before she became one of the biggest breeders in Canada.
Three years ago, MacDermott moved to Sooke where she continues to breed the lizards in her Sunriver Estates home, along with a variety of insects to feed her pets. Her collection of chameleons includes 36 breeders and more than 100 babies.
The idea to take chameleons into schools came when MacDermott held a garage sale at her home and people peeked into her garage to see her “little jungle” filled with lizards. Her friends suggested she should take the chameleons to schools and birthday parties.
She now does more than 50 presentations and birthday parties a year.
“The parties are very educational. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun,” MacDermott says.
“People didn’t know that much about chameleons when I first started in Sooke, but now everybody’s talking about them.”
The BCSPCA is opposed to the keeping and breeding of exotic animals, whether it is for a private pet, roadside zoo, traveling attraction, or for the entertainment industry, said Dr. Sara Dubois, chief scientific officer for the BCSPCA.
“There is no regulation for breeders in B.C., so anyone can be a breeder, and we definitely don’t think it’s a good idea to use exotic animals for paid exhibitions,” she said, adding few veterinarians possess the training or experience to deal with the needs of exotics.
MacDermott takes four adult chameleons, representing three different species, to presentations. Each lizard has a name, but are handled carefully and not forced on any child.
“We don’t pass the chameleon around. We use a sanitizer. We ask the children if they want to feel the chameleons. I go around and show them how to handle a chameleon,” said MacDermott, who has a teaching degree.
“Too much handling can be stressful for them, so we try to limit that, but the kids are definitely very excited.”
When lizards are frightened or get stressed they will open their mouth and hiss like a cat and give a warning. They likely won’t bite.
Chameleon males can also be very territorial and when they see another male will make themselves look big and change colour.
“I’ve never had issues with them,” MacDermott said.
MacDermott estimates she has spent more time researching and studying Chameleons than she ever did in university studying for her degree.
“I love what I do and I love my animals.”
The veiled chameleon is a small slow-moving Old World lizard with a prehensile tail, long extensible tongue, protruding eyes that rotate independently, and a highly developed ability to change colour. There are more thann 180 species of chameleons, ranging in size from 1.5 to 70 centimetres.