The Chameleon

Sabi Sand | January 2020

Size counts in Africa, at least that’s how the saying goes in South Africa! This statement can be misleading because it would make you think that the more visible you are, the higher the chance is of you being recognised as a threat. This may automatically grant you some sort of respect or maybe invite some kind of envy. On the contrary the statement may be a kind of African sarcasm because small sizes seem to have more control over many a big character’s, both visible and imaginable.

I have observed the bravery of trackers over the last two decades – their passion that will make them leave the safety of the game viewer with a smile, to go and track lions on foot, armed with a hand radio and maybe a stick which, by the way, is used to pave way where spiders may have their webs. The guide will get a radio call that a lion or a leopard has been found and the tracker will be excited of his achievement, which is impressive considering that these are wild animals that can be unpredictable. Trackers could also stumble upon other things while walking and need to be prepared for all dangers. But all bravery and experience is tossed aside when we trackers encounter one of the smallest, and maybe the most harmless, creature in the wild: the chameleon!

You will see the biggest of trackers vacate their seat and seek cover in the safety of the game viewer at the sight of a chameleon.

To most people a chameleon is just another one of Nature’s wonders, armed with the ability to change colour to blend into its environment to avoid detection from its predators and its prey, and equipped with eyes that can operate individually to scope what goes on around and above them. Blame it on local superstitions or folklore, any which way you go, you will not get a tracker to touch a chameleon – the movement of the eyes are regarded as demonic, the ability to change colour makes them powerful, and the mistaken belief regarding reincarnation just drives in the fact that this is not just an animal, it is an animal with superpowers, and if you touch it as a boy you are going to change your sex to a girl, it will infect you with its abilities and you are not going to be well, because this creature will now have control over you!

So the best thing for most trackers is to avoid the animal.

Interestingly enough a chameleon attracts a lot of interest on safari that you can’t ignore it, but every time it is located just know that the tracker might not be comfortable!