Rescuing Guinevere - A Plea for Responsible Ownership

Monday, February 17, 2014
We had just lost a fresh WC Meller’s chameleon the week before to suspected kidney damage, so my boyfriend at the time and I were thrilled when we got the call from a friend letting us know that someone a drive away from us was willing to rehome their adult female for free. It sounded like the best possible thing that could have happened, given the circumstances, and we prepared to make the 3 hour drive to pick up this chameleon.

Shy Guin the day after being in her new home. We didn't know how sick she was... yet. 

When we arrived at the house we were greeted by a pleasant woman, a large dog, and the overwhelming smell of accumulated pet odor from within the house. Even as the owner of two dogs myself I was surprised by the pungent intensity but we chatted politely with the owner and proceeded to walk over to the room where she kept her reptiles. If the smell was intense, the sight of the animal cages was worse – they looked as if (like the carpets) no one had bothered to wash them in a substantial amount of time, so much so that glass terrariums were coated with a film of waste, tracked up by little crested gecko feet.

Guinevere's tail - this might indicate some level of
calcium deficiency at some point in her life. Part of
 her neglect, we suspect. 
The Meller’s chameleon, the one known now as Guinevere, was in a Reptarium cage much too small for her size, which was placed on the floor with only one bendy-vine stretched across the cage for her to perch on. On the floor of the cage was what looked like a shallow baking sheet with no more than an inch or two of soil – her laying bin? I was told that she never bothered to dig to lay her infertiles, she would just drop them from her perch onto the floor. What else would she do with them, I wondered. I saw no signs of any plants or surfaces within the cage from which to drink and no source of water.

 I was taken aback by how little this lady still cared about her reptiles. The geckos in the half a dozen glass tanks were filthy, so much so that their toes were no longer sticky, they had no identifiable source of food or water, and most had lost their tails to overcrowding. My boyfriend had not planned on bringing any other reptiles home but seeing the condition of the geckos he proceeded to pack as many as possible into our car.

When we got home he soaked the geckos in a warm bath and I settled Guinevere into her new home. Within a few days it was obvious that the geckos were going to be fine in their new lushly planted community tank, but that Guinevere had a serious respiratory infection, and what later turned out to be the beginning of mouth-rot (stomatitis) as well. When I contacted the previous owner about it she made excuse after excuse, and blamed the respiratory infection on my husbandry (“you keep her outdoors partly? It’s too humid, it leads to infections.”)

Six months later Guinevere was healthy and all the geckos were still in great shape, some of them even rehomed to other permanent residencies. But it really still shocks me how little some people value their pets, especially reptiles. This was a woman that was highly respected at one point within the reptile community, and here she was, burned out and disinterested. Had someone like me not taken Guinevere, she would surely have died, and the chameleon community would have lost a sweet, full-grown, beautiful CB, potential breeding female for no reason except neglect.

I completely understand how easily one can become burned out with a hobby. But you cannot put aside keeping animals like you would scrapbooking or cycling. They depend on us exclusively for their own survival, and it’s absolutely unethical to let the state of your animals deteriorate to such a degree. If you feel that your heart is no longer in this hobby then, please, give the animals away or sell them to appropriate new homes. But letting them wither away like this in their own filth is unforgivable.

Two of the female crested geckos in their new, significantly larger and cleaner community tank. Full of fresh water, food, and insects. 
Another of the geckos we rescued, now doing extremely beautifully.
Additionally, it’s important to be realistic about the number of animals you can safely and properly care for. If 25 is overwhelming, something has to be done. Narrow it down to just a small handful, so that each one of them can get the best care. There is a trend in the reptile world to collect reptiles (people have “collections” of geckos or snakes) to the point where we end up with rooms full of minimalistic, spartan housing racks full of animals that have become just another breeding individual.  It’s tempting because reptiles are relatively easy to keep, they don’t require the space or attention of something like a dog or a cat. But there is no reason it has to be like this for everyone, and we as individuals have to be much more conscious of how many animals we can each handle realistically. As much as I would love to have many more Meller's, for example, at this time I can only properly house the three I have and not one more. 

As a hobby we skate on thin ice already – not very many people like us or the animals we keep, and every time someone gets busted hoarding neglected reptiles the case for our opposition grows stronger. We look worse as a group, and eventually we’ll all pay for when they have enough ammunition to take our exotic reptiles away altogether.

So please, be responsible! At the end of the day we are a global community, and what we do affects all of us for better or worse. 


  1. I have just started reading your blog, somewhat doing research about chameleons as pets, but mostly out of curiosity. I'm a licensed vet tech and I've always had a variety of species of animals as pets. Reading this post made me both really sad but also really grateful...sad to hear another story of animal neglect, but grateful that there are a few more people in the world willing to save and rehab the neglected ones :) I don't have any chameleons, and I'm not sure I want one yet (or ever). But my friend (also a vet tech) has multiple species of reptiles, all of which she has taken on from owners who brought them into her clinic and either didn't want them anymore because they were too sick and didn't want to pay for treatment, or who were neglecting them and agreed to surrender them to her. So I guess what I'm saying is...keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you Amanda! I bet you and your friend see all sorts of cases like this all the time. Even on forums I try to encourage people to stop getting more reptiles just for the sake of it (I see it a lot with gecko people in particular, since leopard and crested geckos are so cheap to buy and easy to keep in shoe boxes) and to focus on giving the few they have a better life. People fall into the trap of growing 20-30+ animal collections and then become burned out within a year or two.


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