The summer holiday season always brings many special moments to cherish, including relaxing around a crackling fire, enjoying a fragrant braai and melting marshmallows. Our indigenous fynbos also benefit from fire, ideally about every 15 years.  

While some plants are designed to withstand the fire, dense vegetation is burned to reveal lower-growing flowering bulbs, the fire’s heat and smoke encourages fynbos seed dispersal and germination, and falling ash replenishes the soil with nutrients and promotes healthy regrowth of the fynbos (The relationship between fynbos and fire, The Village News, 15 January 2019).   

On the other hand, a fire isn’t a very appealing idea to the creatures that live in the greenbelts or on the few remaining open plots in our neighbourhood. 

For the past 2 – 3 years, volunteers with Whale Coast Conservation’s Chameleon Project have been learning about the vulnerable Cape dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum). Endemic to the south-western Cape region, our little slow-footed friends face many threats: barging bulldozers levelling land for housing and farming, alien invasive plants threatening their perfect fynbos habitat, the beaks of beady-eyed carnivorous birds, the clutches of curious domestic cats, unsuitable habitat in urban gardens… and fearsome, roaring  fires!  

Here in Hermanus, the time has come for our local Overstrand Municipality to do some controlled burns of fynbos, on sites where natural fires have not occurred in 15 years. Ahead of these prescribed burns, we need more volunteers to join the Chameleon Project to conduct night searches on these sites. If we find any resident chameleons on a site, they have to be rescued and relocated to safety. If no chameleons are found, it means that the municipality can proceed with the controlled burn. 

Perhaps after the fynbos has regrown, we may be able to place more chameleons on that site once again. We have happy memories of our past two years of chameleon monitoring with our torch-lights after dark – children, teenagers, parents and grandparents all joining together to do our searchwork-homework! It is a fun and freeing adventure as we go about bundu-bashing shortly after sunset, all in the hope of finding chameleons.

Sometimes twigs, leaves and more twigs claw at our clothes, threatening to tear our trousers and poke holes in our T-shirts! Our reward is not only finding chameleons but also enjoying plenty of bonus sightings of other small creatures such as stick insects, moths, crickets, frogs and spiders. It is such fun!

During the December holidays we again heard from the volunteers that looking for chameleons “is so addictive, better than watching TV, and it makes me feel like a child again when we find the chameleons!”            

So let’s look on the bright side – of the torch – as we sing some happy holiday songs and continue our enjoyable search-work together!       

 

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! / Let’s go save chameleons, on our way today, hey! / You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout / I’m telling you why, chameleons are somewhere in town!

Volunteers are also needed to work in teams in the Chameleon Sanctuary at Whale Coast Nature Reserve. Chameleons have been spotted in the area, and from September to December 2020, a total of 9 119 alien invasive plant saplings were removed by home-school volunteers as well as by the Hawston Cadets. Already, indigenous fynbos are resprouting in the cleared areas. In the months ahead, any rescued chameleons will be relocated to the sanctuary. 

The activities of the Whale Coast Conservation Chameleon Project are family-friendly, suitable for all ages, and filled with story-telling and interactive information sharing. They are conducted outdoors with safe social distancing, naturally provided by the fynbos! (Even our mascot, Charlie Chameleon wears a protective face mask.)  

If you are keen to participate in the night-time searches around town, or the day-time alien plant clearing in the Chameleon Sanctuary, please contact Shirley Mgoboza of WCC on 028 316 2527 / 078 515 1078 or shirleym.wcc@gmail.com.

We’ll end with just one more catchy fireside song:                                                                             We wish you would come and join us / We wish you would come and join us /  We wish you would come and join uuus… /  In this happy new year!

Fourteen-year-old Morgan Hendricks is home-schooled and has been one of the most active WCC members since she was 10. She is WCC’s junior reporter.  

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