Rhampholeon platyceps 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Chamaeleonidae

Scientific Name: Rhampholeon platyceps Günther, 1893
Common Name(s):
English Mount Mulanje Pygmy Chameleon, Malawi Stumptail Chameleon
Brookesia platyceps (Günther, 1893)
Brookesia platyceps ssp. carri Loveridge, 1953
Taxonomic Notes: Accepted as Rhampholeon platyceps (Tilbury 2010). Populations of Rhampholeon on Mt. Chiperone, Mabu and Namuli are separate taxa and should not be confused with R. platyceps (Branch et al. 2014). In addition, molecular phylogenetic analysis shows that the sub-species, R. platyceps carri is not valid (Branch et al. 2014).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered B1ab(ii,iii,v)+2ab(ii,iii,v) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-08-26
Assessor(s): Tolley, K.
Reviewer(s): Bowles, P.
Contributor(s): Anderson, C.V., Bayliss, J. & Tilbury, C.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Tolley, K. & Jenkins, R.K.B.
Rhampholeon platyceps is considered Endangered because it has a small Area of Occupancy and the threats to the montane forest habitat are tangible. It is estimated that up to a half of its habitat has already been lost, or is degraded. Therefore the population is inferred to have substantial undergone declines, is presently severely fragmented, the number of threat locations probably five or less, and threats are ongoing. There is concern that if the threats continue or escalate, the species will be subject to additional declines through further loss and fragmentation of habitat.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Rhampholeon platyceps is endemic to the mid and high altitude evergreen forest fragments of Mount Mulanje and the adjacent Mchese Mountain (and essentially part of the same massif), Malawi. It is found only on the moist southern and eastern-facing slopes where forest occurs in remnant fragmented patches, totalling ca. 61 km2. The original evergreen forest habitat has been substantially reduced in size and the remaining forest heavily impacted (Dowsett-Lemaire 1988, Bayliss et al. 2007). The transformed habitat that remains is unsuitable for this species. Although the evergreen forest once extended down to 650 m elevation, the area up to 900 m elevation is totally transformed by commercial and subsistence agriculture (Dowsett-Lemaire 1988). In recent times, the chameleon has only been recorded between 900 m (Ruo Gorge) and ca. 1900 m (Lichenya hut).

Countries occurrence:
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:61Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Estimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:220
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:5Continuing decline in number of locations:No
Lower elevation limit (metres):900
Upper elevation limit (metres):1900
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


There is no information on the abundance of this species, but as a restricted-range species with limited suitable habitat remaining, the overall population size is unlikely to be large at present. Furthermore, the species has probably undergone population declines due to the transformation of a large portion of the habitat on Mt. Mulanje. The forest has been heavily impacted by resource utilisation (logging), invasive species, and conversion of landscape for subsistence and commercial agriculture. Rough estimates range from half to a third of original forest having been lost, particularly at low altitudes (Dowsett-Lemaire 1988), suggesting the past population decline was of a similar magnitude. Population decline at present should be somewhat mitigated as most of this habitat loss was prior to the 1990s.

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:Yes

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Rhampholeon platyceps is endemic to evergreen forest on Mount Mulanje and adjacent Mount Mchese. It primarily terrestrial by day, but perches on twigs and leaves about 1 m high during the night (Tilbury 2010). It does not tolerate altered habitats.
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: As no Rhampholeon species (with the exception of R. spinosus) are listed on CITES, annual CITES export quotas and CITES trade data for this species are lacking. This species, however, is not known to be present in the captive market.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

There is substantial pressure on the evergreen forest, which is a threat to this species. Pressure on natural resources in this heavily-populated region has resulted in encroachment on the indigenous forest on Mt. Mulanje and Mt. Mchese due to burning practices, fuelwood collection, illegal logging, unsustainable hunting, the potential threat of bauxite extraction, and conversion of the landscape for subsistence and commercial agriculture (Dowsett-Lemaire 1988, Bayliss et al. 2007). The forest is also impacted by invasive pines, which were originally planted for utilization, but have now taken over parts of the plateau (Bayliss et al. 2007). The forest has been formally protected as a Forest Reserve since 1927, which has limited large-scale land clearance for agriculture, but encroachment, resource utilization and small scale commercial timer extraction is ongoing. The Reserve boundaries were modified several times up until 1971 to accommodate this encroachment (Dowsett-Lemaire 1988). The ecological integrity of the forest on Mulanje is also impacted through illegal extraction of the endemic Mulanje Cedar (Widdringtonia whytei) and the use of fire to clear and kill the Mulanje Cedar trees. In 1988, aerial photography showed that the mid and high altitude forest extent totalled 61 kmand 10 km2 on Mchese, which already represented approximately a third to half reduction in total forest size since the 1970s (Dowsett-Lemaire 1988). The rate of loss has been mitigated through stronger protection, but the threats are still active.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

The entire distribution of this species is within the Mulanje Forest Reserve, and the more recently established Mt. Mulanje Biosphere Reserve. The mountain is under the stewardship of the action based organisation, the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT). The MMCT implemented the Mulanje Mt. Biodiversity Conservation Project (2002-2012) in part to preserve the biodiversity and ecosystems of the mountain (Wisborg and Jumbe 2010). Objectives included eradication of invasive alien species, rehabilitation of indigenous forest particularly for the endangered Mulanje cedar, and law enforcement. Despite these conservation targets, the extent of forest is declining annually and it is unknown whether conservation actions (maintaining fire breaks to protect the forest, and patrols to guard against illegal activities) are halting this decline. Strong actions are required to prevent the illegal harvesting of Mulanje Cedar, which causes substantial ecosystem degradation, and could include a stricter patrolling regime with harsher penalties for poaching wood to curb the harvesting. Essentially, law enforcement for the prevention of illegal activities is not effective (Wisborg and Jumbe 2010), and therefore the forest is not protected in practice. The result is that Rhampholeon platyceps is still under threat due to continued habitat loss and degradation, and it is likely undergo reductions in its area of occupancy as a result of these impacts on its habitat.

Citation: Tolley, K. 2014. Rhampholeon platyceps. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T172532A1344495. . Downloaded on 24 September 2018.
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