The Pursuit of Chameleon Diversity

Hi all!

Thank you for visiting my gofundme page!! By the time you finish reading, I hope you will enjoy chameleons as much as I do!!!

(a beautiful female 3-horned chameleon; notice females do not have the prominent horns)

Who am I?
My name is Danny Hughes  and I’m a second year PhD student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program at the University of Texas at El Paso. I work as a collections assistant in the Evolutionary Genetics lab under Dr. Eli Greenbaum, who has described many new species of reptiles (including a chameleon!). My dissertation research is focused on telling the story of chameleon evolution in the highlands of Central Africa by examining their DNA. This project has provided me the opportunity to visit Africa (Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo) to collect data in 2014, and when I returned to the states (after 58 days abroad!), I made it my goal to go back.

(me and two male 3-horned chameleons at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that harbors nearly half of the world's population of Mountain Gorillas)

Why do chameleons need our help?
A recent assessment  by the Chameleon Specialist Group of the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species, estimated that 66 (36%) of the world's chameleon species are threatened with extinction, and many Central African species are Data Deficient (e.g. Kinyongia gyrolepis) or have not been seen in decades (e.g. Trioceros kinetensis). Numerous factors have contributed to the decline and threatened status of chameleons, such as forest fragmentation (largely illicit deforestation). Rates of tropical deforestation rose 58 percent in the 2000s, that's 78.2 million hectares of forests lost, up from 49.3 million in the 1990s! Another major threat to wild chameleons is their illegal exploitation for the global pet trade. As many as 81,000 chameleons were exported for the international market in 2001 alone!

(a male 3-horned chameleon peaking through a bush)

What am I going to do?
I'm interested in understanding the evolutionary history of chameleons from the Albertine Rift in Central Africa. This region is globally important in terms of biodiversity, as it has more endemic (only found there) vertebrate species than any other region on continental Africa. By examining the DNA and morphology (appearance) of several chameleon populations across a broad geographic range, I will be able to reconstruct their ancestry (who is related to who) and use this family tree to target potential environmental drivers (e.g. uplift of mountains) of chameleon diversity and areas in need of protection. There is a high likelihood of discovering new species (unknown to science), and the discovery of new, endemic chameleon species will bolster the conservation importance of this region. It will also provide opportunities to offer conservation recommendations and priority areas. New species often receive a lot of media notice, and this may get the attention of policymakers that will ultimately set the conservation priorities (hopefully in accordance with our recommendations).

(a strange-nosed chameleon, endemic to Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which includes Africa's third highest peak)

Working with local scientists
Last summer, my advisor and I worked closely with Dr. Mathias Behangana, a Ugandan Professor at Makerere University in Kampala, and his student Lukwago Wilbur. They have agreed to continue our collaboration for this upcoming expedition. Working with native Ugandan scientists will greatly facilitate my research and help to build long-term relationships leading to the development of education and conservation programs geared towards protecting chameleons.  Our goal is to engage local communities to help understand and conserve Africa's chameleon diversity for the future.

(me working in the "lab" with my assistants at a remote village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Success from last summer's expedition
My advisor and I spent 58 days on an expedition to Central Africa in the summer of 2014. We were in Uganda for nearly 20 days and DR Congo for the rest of the time. Although our time in Uganda was brief, it was extremely fruitful, especially for chameleons (see blog). We found 5 species of chameleons at the Rwenzori Mountains in 24 hours! The goal of this upcoming trip is to focus my efforts exclusively in Uganda, particularly several poorly explored areas. Potential localities include: Semuliki National ParkKibale National ParkMgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Kidepo Valley National Park.

(two Ituri chameleons attempting to share a branch)

Current funding situation
I have received a grant that will cover airfare and a work visa for Uganda. Although other grant opportunities are currently pending, they are not secured and whether I land any of them is uncertain. The biggest hole in the budget for this expedition is travel within Uganda. The cost for renting a 4x4 vehicle is $100/day. I will be traveling for nearly 25 days during this trip, thus I have set my goal at $2500. I would be very grateful to receive donations to support me in my endeavors. Any size donation will be very helpful and greatly appreciated! This opportunity is one that I cannot pass by, and can only do it with you help!
Thanks :)

(a grumpy baby chameleon that did not like it when I woke him up)

Thank you so much for your support!!!
and thank you for supporting chameleons!!!

(three pygmy chameleons without a care in the world)

*all chameleon photos were taken by myself*

If you donate any amount, I will email you one of my chameleon photographs.


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Danny Frederick Hughes 
El Paso, TX
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