All creatures great and very, very small

2019 12 Paignton Zoo Nguru pygmy chameleon HR-14

This is an Nguru spiny pygmy chameleon. It’s just a few centimetres long. What could it possibly have in common with a black rhino? The answer is – Wild Planet Trust. The charity behind Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts and Newquay Zoo carries out conservation work in Tanzania, home to both species.

This minute chameleon – a species new to Paignton Zoo and sadly not yet on show to guests – needs all the help it can get. It’s Critically Endangered, largely due to the ravenous demands of the international pet trade.

The chameleon is well named – it comes from the Nguru Mountains of East Tanzania, it is indeed spiny, and it’s most certainly pygmy – an individual might weigh just a few grams, compared to a black rhino, which can easily tip the scales at a hefty one thousand kilos plus. Keeping the 17 individuals now in quarantine at Paignton Zoo will help staff learn about their care and breeding, gaining invaluable knowledge should the wild population crash and need support from zoos.

Tanzania is one of the countries in which Wild Planet Trust focuses its conservation work. Guests visiting the charity’s three zoos generate vital income for projects in the UK and around the world. Tanzania comes under the charity’s Wild Hills banner – the hills of the Uzungwa Scarp Nature Forest Reserve are islands in the sky, surrounded by farmland and people.

The stakes here are high. Andrew Bowkett, Wild Planet Trust Programmes Manager, said: “A ranger on a patrol we helped to fund was killed in Tanzania by poachers in May this year. Rangers use camera-traps to monitor illegal activities and are now adopting advanced SMART technology in their efforts to combat poachers.

East Africa might be the cradle of human civilization – but it’s also home to many amazing plants and animals. Steve Nash, Group Education Manager: “For me, Tanzania is all about the electric blue day geckos! We’ve done some great research work on them, we’ve funded fieldwork and they’re blue – what’s not to love?”

Other Tanzanian species you can see at Paignton Zoo include geckos, black rhino and grey crowned crane. Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go to or ring 01803 697500.

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