Rhampholeon chapmanorum 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Reptilia Squamata Chamaeleonidae

Scientific Name: Rhampholeon chapmanorum Tilbury, 1992
Common Name(s):
English Chapman's Pygmy Chameleon
Rhampholeon chapmani Tilbury, 1992 [orth. error]
Taxonomic Notes: There are several localities in Mozambique (Mt. Namuli, Mt. Mabu) which were originally suspected to contain populations of Rhampholeon chapmanorum (Tilbury 2010). However, molecular phylogenetic analysis confirms that R. chapmanorum is endemic to remaining forest fragments in Malawi Hill, and the Mozambican localities are home to separate species of Rhampholeon (Branch et al. 2014).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-08-20
Assessor(s): Tolley, K., Menegon, M. & Plumptre, A.
Reviewer(s): Bowles, P.
Contributor(s): Anderson, C.V., Bayliss, J. & Tilbury, C.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Tolley, K. & Jenkins, R.K.B.

This species is assessed as Critically Endangered because the small remaining fragmented forest habitat has been and continues to be under intense pressure. The remaining uncleared forest is estimated to be entirely confined within two small degraded fragments (average area 0.29 km2) totalling only 0.6 km2. These fragments may not contain viable populations at all, as they appear heavily degraded. The entire distribution is considered one threat location, because the pressure on each patch is the same, i.e. clearing of forest for agriculture by the surrounding community. The last survey of the forest was in 1998 and some individuals were observed at the time. Given the intense pressure on the habitat, and assumed loss of ecological function of these small disjointed patches (separated by 1.7 km) this species is considered Critically Endangered and there is even a possibility that it is extinct.

Date last seen: 1998

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

This species is only found at Malawi Hill (more specifically, in the Natundu Hills range), near Nsanje, Malawi. It was described from a tiny remnant of lowland seasonal rainforest on the upper south east facing slope within the Matandwe Forest Reserve (Tilbury 1992). The indigenous forest of the Malawi Hill has essentially been destroyed due to human encroachment. Satellite imagery (GoogleEarth 2013) shows two degraded and fragmented forest patches at the type locality that cover a total of ca. 0.6 km2. The fragment sizes are 0.37 km2 and 0.22 km2 and are about 1.7 km apart, separated by highly transformed habitat. It is not known if the species occurs in both these fragments. Two nearby patches (3 km north) that probably were more forested until recently, have an open canopy and probably lack any forest floor (total 0.4 km2), so these patches are not considered viable for the population and are not included in an estimate of its distribution. 

Countries occurrence:
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:0.6Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Estimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:1.6
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):Yes
Number of Locations:1Continuing decline in number of locations:Yes
Lower elevation limit (metres):650
Upper elevation limit (metres):950
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


No quantitative information on abundance exists, but an ad hoc survey in 1998 produced some observations of this species (C. Tilbury pers. comm. 2013). The tiny size of the forest patches, which also appear to be heavily degraded (GoogleEarth 2013), coupled to the intense pressure from human population in the area suggests that the population is extremely small, and possibly extinct at its only known natural locality. Satellite imagery (GoogleEarth 2013) shows two degraded patches of forest 1.7 km apart, with an average patch size of 0.29 km2. The forests are separated by unsuitable habitat, resulting in a severely fragmented population.

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

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Rhampholeon chapmanorum inhabits low bushes and forest floor leaf litter in rainforest on low altitude mountain slopes. It has not been recorded from transformed landscapes, and like other Rhampholeon, it is considered a forest specialist. Although these chameleons will perch on low bushes while resting during the night-time, they require intact forest floor to forage in the daytime. Therefore, they are not expected to occupy forests that are heavily impacted and have become open on the forest floor.
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) is 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):

This species is only known from a single location, in the remnant of rainforest on Malawi Hill, within the Matandwe Forest Reserve, part of the Natundu Hills range. In 1998, it was estimated that less than a few hectares remained of degraded forest (Tilbury 2010), and satellite imagery shows there is about 0.6 km2 remaining in two patches, averaging 0.29 km2 in size. It is unknown which, if any, of these patches are currently inhabited by this species. There are also two additional patches which appear to be so heavily transformed (open canopy) that they are presumed to not have any viable populations of chameleons. Given the wholesale conversion of the area for agriculture (maize, yams and other crops), as well as timber extraction for timber planks and conversion to charcoal, it is possible that all the fragments are too small to support populations.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: A survey of the remaining forest fragments urgently needs to be carried out to determine if this species is extinct, or if a small population still survives. Assuming the latter, to avoid imminent extinction, strong conservation measures must be put in place as soon as possible, including full protection of any remaining viable patches, as well as restoration of the forest to promote population growth of this species. If these measures cannot be put into place, stronger interventions, such as translocations and/or ex situ breeding would be necessary.

Citation: Tolley, K., Menegon, M. & Plumptre, A. 2014. Rhampholeon chapmanorum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T172568A1345654. . Downloaded on 21 May 2018.
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