I recently attended one of the largest reptile shows on the East coast and came home with a new panther, and wanted to take the time to share a direct experience to illustrate the risks and pros.
While at the show there were several chameleon vendors, with a few of them selling older panther chameleon males. One of these vendors had a world-renowned reptile vet assisting them, so I was confident that they were reputable vendors with healthy animals or this vet would not have associated himself with them. However, they only had Nosy Be panthers available, and I was looking for something extremely red, not extremely blue. My search led me to one vendor who had what I would consider several signs to be cautious about.*
* Because I've dealt with lots of chameleon issues I decided to take the risk, but I am describing the signs so that others may be better informed and make educated decisions about who they choose to buy from.
The signs that worried me were these:
1. In each cage they had as many as 5 nearly full-grown male panthers, all about 8-9+ months old.
2. Nearly all the individuals were dark, many towards the bottom with one or two brighter individuals towards the top, signaling who the dominant and submissive animals were. All of them looked stressed and uncomfortable.
3. The cages were very bare, with only a handful of dowel rods set up for the chameleons to climb on, so many of them were climbing the screen, which is bad for big, heavy males.
4. Nearly all their nails were worn completely down and their nose ridge (rostral process) was also worn down, indicative of animals that climb and rub against the screen a lot. This is usually associated with animals whose cages are not well planted and have a poor amount of climbing branches.
Despite all of this I saw a panther who was exactly what I was looking for, and after handling him for a moment I decided to take the risk. The reasons I decided to buy the animal regardless of how their displays were are as follows:
1. His eyes looked good; not sunken and not full of discharge. They looked bright, hydrated, and alert.
2. His mouth (exterior) looked good as well, with no deformities along the lips and no apparent discharge, scabs, or dark areas.
3. The fat pads on his head looked great, nice and full, and his body weight was ideal.
4. His temperament was super docile and calm, which is something I prefer in my pet chameleons.
I decided that he looked good and healthy enough to take the risk so I purchased him, and knew that I could handle any issues as they arose if they popped up. And true enough, they did start to pop up. I let him settle in for a few days, like any new pet, and kept offering a cricket or two to see if he would start eating. After day 5 I noticed that he really still hadn't eaten, which struck me as unusual, since by now my chameleons feel a lot more comfortable. But when I had the cricket bin out I noticed that he, like the others, was waiting by the door for food so I could tell he was hungry. But when I held out a cricket for him he was incapable of shooting out his tongue any sort of distance and had to walk right up to the insect in order to eat it.
I took him to a dear vet friend of mine and after an examination, we discovered that his throat (glottis) was inflamed so he was given a shot of steroids to bring down the swelling and a dose of Baytril as well, for good measure. Only a week later his tongue seemed somewhat improved, and the swelling was dramatically better. He was also started on my supplement and nutrition regimen, which included lots of calcium to aid in fixing any muscular issues resulting in low blood calcium levels, as well as vitamins and a varied diet on well-gutloaded insects. He still cannot shoot his tongue farther than 4" away and has to be cup/hand fed as a result, but is otherwise a great eater. He will probably be a special needs eater for the rest of his life, probably, but this is ok as I don't mind spending the extra time.
He is, however, a good example of why it pays to be attentive when buying from shows or pet stores and recognize all the possible signs of something possibly being wrong with the animal you purchase. I recognized the risks and lunged at the opportunity anyway, but if you recognize the risks be very honest with yourself and your level of experience in dealing with possible issues.
All this said, the breeder very kindly refunded enough money to cover the vet expenses for treating and and getting him better, and the entire time the breeder was nothing but courteous, concerned, and helpful. As a person I was extremely impressed with how he handled the situation and highly credit him for it, and would buy from him again as long as I got to see his animals before purchasing one. But as a small breeder I don't doubt that they will continue to grow and get things better worked out for future shows and displays.
Castiel, the Ambilobe panther chameleon, is now very happily settled into his cage and enjoying lots of food and Florida sunshine.