The newly-discovered Magombera chameleon. Image credit: Andrew Marshall/African Journal of Herpetology
Dr. Andrew Marshal did not venture into the lowland forests of Tanzania looking for a new species. He does not study reptiles or amphibians. In fact, the new species of chameleon he discovered, now named Kinyongia magomberae or the Magombera chameleon, was delivered to him, in a way, by a startled snake.It all started with a long slow walk in the jungle. Dr. Marshal, a conservation scientist, was in Tanzania conducting research in the Magombera Forest for the University of York and the Flamingo Land Amusement Park and Zoo. The highly threatened forest serves as the home for people and animals in the area, including the endangered red colobus monkey. Dr. Marshal had started trekking to perform a monkey survey.
While he was walking through the forest, his pace dictated by the necessities of the survey, he startled a twig snake that was in the process of eating lunch in the middle of the path. The snake was so freighted by the roaming scientist that it vomited its lunch and slithered away.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Being a scientist, Dr. Marshal felt compelled to bend over and examine the contents of the snake vomit. The chameleon he found therein was unlike any he had seen before. When he asked local experts, they confirmed his suspicion: It was a new species.
After genetic testing in a museum, Dr. Marshal's chameleon was definitively labeled a new species. He explained that, "discovering a new species is a rare event so to be involved in the identification and naming of this animal is very exciting," even more so, he added, because this was not part of his research.
Dr. Marshal's research is actually focused on developing a better understanding of the biology of the Magombera forest and educating those that live in it so they can implement more sustainable management practices. The ultimate goal is to establish protected status for the area and to develop alternative means for local people to meet their needs.
The discovery of this new chameleon, while not directly related to his research, may help Dr. Marshal achieve his goals. He explained:
Chameleon species tend to be focused in small areas and, unfortunately, the habitat this one depends on, the Magombera Forest, is under threat. Hopefully this discovery will support efforts to provide this area and others like it with greater protection.
Being able to name a species after its threatened habit, he added, helps create a banner for the desperate needs of the endangered ecosystem. Hopefully, one snake's lost lunch can help save an entire forest.
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