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Rhampholeon spinosus

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA REPTILIA SQUAMATA CHAMAELEONIDAE

Scientific Name: Rhampholeon spinosus
Species Authority: (Matschie, 1892)
Common Name(s):
English Usambara Spiny Pygmy Chameleon, Rosette-nosed Pygmy Chameleon, Rosette-nosed Chameleon
Synonym(s):
Bradypodion spinosum (Matschie, 1892)
Chamaeleon spinosus Matschie, 1892

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered B1ab(ii,iii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2013-08-27
Assessor(s): Tolley, K. & Menegon, M.
Reviewer(s): Bowles, P.
Contributor(s): Anderson, C.V. & Tilbury, C.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Tolley, K. & Jenkins, R.K.B.
Justification:
Rhampholeon spinosus is considered Endangered, because it occurs as a severely fragmented population and the forest fragments are undergoing a continuing decline in their extent and quality due to varied pressures. Population declines are also inferred as a result of direct exploitation, which is currently poorly-regulated due to confusion in CITES implementation.
History:
2010 Endangered

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species occurs in the East and West Usambara Mountains, Tanzania in montane forest above 700 m asl. In this species' 2009 Red List assessment, it was estimated to have an extent of occurrence of approximately 3,250 km2.  A reevaluation of its distribution based on expert knowledge and satellite imagery of the Usambara Mountains suggests an extent of occurrence little over half this, at 1,797 km2. Within this range, the combined area of forest fragments where the species is known to occur is 567 km2.
Countries:
Native:
Tanzania, United Republic of
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: No information on abundance exists for this species, although Tilbury (2010) considers it to be "rare". The forest fragments in which this species occurs are highly fragmented and under ongoing threats, that are presumably having a negative impact on population size. As this species does not tolerate habitat modification, the population is considered to be severely fragmented.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: This species inhabits Afrotemperate forest in the East and West Usambara Mountains. It does not tolerate transformed landscapes, but animals are sometimes observed in bushes at the forest edge, perched at heights up to several metres. It is unknown what proportion of their time is spent on the forest floor, but Tilbury (2010) assumes they are more arboreal than congeners. Females may lay two different clutches of two eggs at a time (Tilbury 2010).
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

Annual CITES export quotas for this species between 2000 and 2011 ranged from 8-50 (25 average) captive born individuals per year from Tanzania (CITES 2013a). In 2012 and 2013 no annual quota was issued for this species (CITES 2013a). Between 1977 and 2011 (2012 and 2013 trade data are incomplete or unavailable) a total of 149 live individuals were exported from Tanzania for the pet trade (total of all personal and commercial exports), of which 18 were reported as wild collected and 5 were from unknown sources (UNEP-WCMC 2013). All exports occurred between 1993 and 2011, with all but 11 individuals having been exported between 2001 and 2011 (UNEP-WCMC 2013). No other legal trade is reported, although specimens of this species are known to have been brought in among shipments of "assorted pygmy chameleons" without documents multiple times (C. Anderson pers. obs. 2013), suggesting illegal trade and/or harvest may be occurring at significant levels.

The trade status of R. spinosus is complicated by the ambiguity surrounding its taxonomic status with CITES. Despite this species having been reclassified as a Rhampholeon species in 2004 from its previous classification as a Bradypodion species (Tilbury and Mariaux 2004), CITES has as of yet not adopted this taxonomic change (CITES 2013b). CITES has however, adopted taxonomic changes to remove all other species that had been incorrectly referred to as Bradypodion (Tilbury et al. 2006), except R. spinosus (CITES 2013b). The complication stems from Rhampholeon being specifically listed as not having any members being CITES listed, allowing a loop-hole for non-regulated export of Rhampholeon spinosus, a name that does not appear on CITES at present. Only specimens incorrectly exported under the outdated name Bradypodion spinosum would be subject to CITES regulation.

This ambiguity has allowed for this species to be illegally imported in multiple "assorted pygmy chameleon" shipments without CITES documents (C. Anderson pers. obs.). This is especially concerning given that while "Bradypodion spinosum" was listed on CITES quotas for Tanzania prior to 2011, when the nomenclature of the remaining Tanzanian Bradypodion species was updated for the 2012 quotas from Bradypodion to Kinyongia, Bradypodion spinosus was dropped from the quota list. While this does not legally indicate that the species is not still listed on CITES and similarly subject to the required CITES export permits, it being dropped from the quota makes it appear to no longer be regulated as all other CITES listed chameleons in Tanzania are listed on the quotas, while none of the non-CITES listed species are (i.e., all the Rieppeleon and other Rhampholeon species). As a result, the CITES status of this species has become even more vague, which continues to enable this species to be illegally traded (C. Anderson pers. obs. 2013).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Although part of its distribution lies within protected areas (Amani, Monga, Kwamkoro, Mazumbai, Mkusa), there is still substantial habitat loss (Spawls et al. 2002) due to deforestation. By 1998 the Usambara Mountains had lost 71% of its original forest cover (Newmark 1998). Expanding cultivation, fire, livestock grazing, and illegal logging have all been cited as the causes of high rates of deforestation (The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund 2005). Mease and Dell (2003) note that an increasing number of tea plantations in the region are also responsible for habitat change. The region is becoming highly fragmented, with the remaining natural forest in the region split into 25 different fragments.

In addition to habitat loss, this species is impacted by illegal trade. This is further complicated by the ambiguity of its CITES status due to a lack of current nomenclature having been adopted.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Part of this species' distribution lies within a protected area (Amani Nature Reserve), plus a number of forest reserves (Monga, Kwamkoro, Mazumbai, Mkusa). However, much of the distribution is outside these areas, and all the forests, even in the protected areas, are impacted by encroachment. As such, both enforcement of regulations, and increase in protection status of non-protected areas are necessary to improve the conservation of this species. In addition, CITES lists and national export quotas must be updated to reflect nomenclature changes.

Citation: Tolley, K. & Menegon, M. 2014. Rhampholeon spinosus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 27 November 2014.
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