One of the confusing things about getting your first chameleon is the idea of chameleons being shipped. How does that work? Can that be safe for the chameleon? Today I will share the details of how shipping works and how you can make it as safe as possible for your new chameleon.
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Good morning, afternoon, and evening Chameleon Wranglers! Today we are going to talk about the whole shipping process. The immediate reaction to hearing that chameleons can be shipped via FedEX or UPS is often surprise. An rightfully so! It is definitely worth exploring this so you feel comfortable with it before you go shopping with a breeder that is in another area. To start off, I can share that shipping chameleons safely has been done for decades. If you pick a reputable breeder they will know how to do this and they will be doing this multiple times a week. But understanding the details will help you be able to make an educated judgement on it yourself. So let’s start with
Properly Packing a Chameleon for Shipping
Packing a chameleon is like any other reptile. Your breeder will use an insulated box with padding all around the container holding the chameleon. Often there will be a heat pack, cold pack, or a phase 22 pack which works to maintain a 22C temperature in the box. These temperature packs are meant as emergency backup and are not designed to protect against being left out in the sun or elements. Your breeder will probably be checking the temperatures at all points along the route so if they delay the shipment due to weather it may not be at your side. It could be at the main transit hub between you and them. If all goes well the external temperature doesn’t matter as the box will go from temperature controlled space to temperature controlled space. But things happen and the name of the game is to reduce risks. So don’t think your breeder is playing games with you if they delay. Now, I am assuming you are going with a reputable breeder. Yes, unreputable breeders or flippers (who buy chameleons from one person and send them on to another) may be using temperature as a delay tactic – especially when they already have your money. But you aren’t price shopping breeders and ending up with the discount provider, right? You have listened to my episode on picking a reputable breeder and went with the high quality breeder. That breeder will not be jerking you around. Anyway, the chameleon will be in either a cup or a bag depending on the size of the chameleon. The cup will be sealed and then the box will be sealed. Of course, here are air holes, but the last thing our community needs is reptiles getting loose and crawling out of boxes. Chameleons aren’t the scariest things, but your average citizen may or may not agree with us on this. on the box itself will be a notice that there is a live animal inside and a government required identification of species and quantity. And that is all it takes!
Chameleons should only go with priority overnight shipping. This is why shipping can cost up to $100 US. Often shipping is offered at less than this, but this can be because of some great volume deals the breeder has going with the shipping comp[any or else they are subsidizing the shipping to minimize the sticker shock. The shipping cost is one reason why breeding chameleons that sell for less than $300 is very difficult. The general public does not see shipping as a separate service, but that it, somehow, should be a low percentage of the cost of the chameleon. People are fine paying $50 to $100 shipping for a chameleon that costs $300 and above, but balk at paying as much for shipping as they do the chameleon. This is a disconnect because neither FedEX nor UPS cares what kind of chameleon is in the box!
What happens during shipping (the process)
It may be hard to imagine being put into a container, packed in a dark box, and then sent through the mail. When done properly, though, chameleons go through the process without an issue. Chameleons go to sleep when it gets dark so the shipping process ends up being a windy night. Even with that it may be hard to imagine the process, but we have been doing this for many decades and very rarely does anything go wrong. Done properly, chameleons come out on the other side with no indication of being worse for the wear.
Here is what they go through. Once your breeder packs them up your breeder delivers them to the shipping hub. They will sit in a temperature controlled room until they are loaded up into the van that will take them to the airport. This will be in the evening so it is avoiding the bulk of the time the sun is up. They are loaded into a temperature controlled, pressurized part of an airplane and flown to the shippers central hub, at which point they are loaded into another plane which will take the parcels to your local airport and driven to your shipper’s local hub. From here they are stored in a temperature controlled room until the last leg of their journey. That can be being loaded onto a truck, driven around until they get to your house, and dropped off at your door step. Or else, it could be waiting in that temperature controlled room until you pick them up yourself. I hate to steal the thunder from the section we will get to entitled how you can ensure the trip is a safe as possible, but I will do so. If at all humanly or even inhumanly possible, have the chameleon held at the hub for you to pick up yourself. The absolute riskiest part of the journey is the trip in the delivery truck and the crazy things that happen in leaving the box on your doorstep. Some breeders won’t ship unless you pick it up from the hub. And, I would be one of those breeders. But more on that later. Let’s take a quick look at what could go wrong.
What can go wrong
Although the vast majority of shipments go without incident, there are some risk points and it is worth knowing those. If anything happens, your breeder will be on top of it. Well, a reputable breeder will be. I have purchased from the standard online retailer before and the box was not delivered when it was said to be delivered. The customer service basically told me I was on my own to figure it out. I actually had to escalate the situation before they would get off their butts and check. A reputable breeder will be waiting to hear from you and may even check in with you if they do not hear back that the chameleon got in okay. But if you let them know that something is off or didn’t arrive as expected they will be all over the shipping company to figure it out.
The biggest danger is the box being left in the sun or in freezing temperature because of some delay. Unfortunately, this is not under your or your breeder’s control. And neither is the shipment being delayed and your box being stuck in some warehouse. The good news is that you can be delayed a day and your chameleon, if it is in the temperature controlled room, should be just fine.
The most preventable danger is the trip on the delivery truck to your house and the box being left on the doorstep in the sun. Oh, I know you said knock and require a signature. But it has happened more than once that I am sitting by the door waiting and I, all of a sudden, get a notification that the box has been delivered. And there is nothing out front. No knock and no box. And now we go through the phone calls to figure it out. Or else the delivery person just leaves the box at the door without knocking. Or leaves it with a neighbor that decides the box is now theirs and won’t admit to receiving the box. I know none of these are allowed, but I have had them all happen to me. So, thus the question, what can we do to ensure the trip is as safe and successful as possible?
How to ensure the trip is as safe as possible
The number one way you can remove the greatest amount of risk is to insist on picking up the chameleon from the shipping hub and not allowing it on the delivery truck. Like I said, some breeders will not ship to someone who is not willing to take that drive. I happen to be one of those breeders. Don’t view it as an inconvenience, view it as insurance for this incredible life joining your family.
Other than that, only take shipments that go out Monday through Wednesday so if there is a day delay for whatever reason it doesn’t end up including the weekend which will add more days to the delay. Also avoid high package transit times such as around Christmas or the Monday after a holiday where there wasn’t shipping. All those boxes will have backed up and you want those out before you have your chameleon shipped. You are looking for the absolute most boring shipping time as possible.
How to transport a chameleon in your car
The advantage of picking up from the hub is that you have full control over the conditions your chameleon experiences during the most risky leg of the journey – from the shipping hub to your home. But it is important that you do it right! The first thing I advice is not to open the box in til you get home. You don’t need to wake up your chameleon from its long sleep just to put it back in the box! Wait until you get home and are ready to put it in its cage.
Next, be obsessively mindful of where the sun is hitting in your car. You may be nice and comfortable with the AC going, but if your chameleon in there box is in direct sunlight the greenhouse effect will warm it uncomfortably up and could, literally, kill the guy. Not good. And remember that the angle the sun comes in changes as you turn your car. So, you see why putting this leg in the hands of a delivery person who has 100 other package to deliver isn’t that great of an idea?
Recovery for your chameleon
Once you do get home, do open the box and do a physical inspection. The majority of the time your chameleon will open its eyes, wake up, and crawl out wondering what this new world is. Do a quick once over to make sure the chameleon has no injuries or obvious sickness. It is a good idea to do an unboxing video that you can send to the breeder if you have any questions about something you see. the breeder can see you take the chameleon out of the box and knows that whatever you are talking about didn’t happen sometime later. And when reporting an issue, do so without starting an accusation. Usually a breeder bends over backwards to clear up any situation. Present your findings with description, images, and video and ask for their direction. If you feel that you do not have what you expected then voice that to the breeder. People do not confrontation and will often go to social media to review the situation before talking to the breeder. I suggest saving the including of other people until after you have talked to the breeder and you feel like the situation was not adequately resolved. Going public before you allow the breeder to formulate a course of action can make a huge mess needlessly.
But, regardless of that situation, the chameleon will appreciate being let into its cage to hide in the plants and drink. Give extra water for a chameleon that was just shipped. They really shouldn’t be that dehydrated, but giving them a good long drink is a way to top off the fluid levels. You can offer food. Many chameleons will eagerly snag anything in front of them. Often the breeder will hold food back a day or so before shipping to avoid the chameleon pooping in the cup during shipping. It is not an issue with babies, but with older chameleons it can be quite the mess so it is worth avoiding! If they don’t have much of an appetite then do not worry about it. Give them a day or two. Offer one food item a couple of times a day until it is taken and then you can offer more. And, very important, give them privacy to recover from their trip and adjust to their new surroundings. Some chameleons come from their journey wanting nothing more than to rest hiding under the Pothos in their cage. Let them do it. And then, some chameleons crawl right out of the container and onto your hand looking for something to eat and to explore their new home.
The ability to ship chameleons has allowed a much higher standard of care to be given to chameleons. Having the entire country as a customer base has allowed private breeding to be sustainable. Before you had to be a huge breeder that could supply national pet retailers to dedicate yourself to breeding. But, shipping chameleons has allowed private breeders to reach enough customers that they can focus on species that may not have as much mass market appeal as, say, a bearded dragon. In the old days I would have said an iguana, but luckily, since then we have accepted that iguanas are not a good mass market pet. But I digress.
The bottom line is that you can feel comfortable shopping online breeders who you have, through research, determined to be reputable. How close they are to you can be a factor in your decision – especially if you can meet at a local show, but it should not be a factor in ruling a good breeder out of consideration. And, as a quick review,
Shipping is always overnight shipping via the fastest means possible. If the person sending you the chameleon tries to send it two day then that is a sign that you need to find another breeder. This is not a negotiable. And it shouldn’t be a problem if you are paying shipping. Overnight shipping will be between $50 to $100. Regardless of the species of chameleon or how much you are paying, the overnight shipping cost doesn’t change unless the breeder is subsidizing it. Shipping is not free no matter how much sleight of hand Amazon likes to throw at you. Now, sometimes the breeder will give you the price as $400 shipped. This means that the shipping cost is included with the quoted price. That is fine as long as you verify that the breeder will be using overnight shipping. Like I said, the more reputable the breeder the less likely you will even have to ask these questions. The more you shopped on price to find a breeder the more likely you will have to ask these questions.
And, I’ll take a quick break to warn you about how confusing it can be. When someone says they will ship two day and not to worry about it because they are just that good, have never lost a chameleon, and the rest of the industry is behind….well, those are serious red flags. There are accepted community standards for a reason and it isn’t because everyone else isn’t as smart as the slick salesman you are taking to. The question is how smart you want to be. Step outside the money saving mindset and think with the risk mitigation mindset.
Next, insist on hub to hub shipping. If at all possible, remove that last risky leg of the delivery journey out of the equation. Take the morning off from work. Now, on this one I won’t be as black and white as I was on the overnight shipping. I know there are situations where you just cannot get the time to go to a hub over an hour away. There are kids and work and physical conditions. If you have to have the chameleon delivered to you then pick a cool day. Heat is a quick killer. Much more than cold. So arrange the delivery to be on a day where weather isn’t a big issue. Talk with your breeder about temperatures. And don’t just look at the morning temperatures. What if there is an unexpected delay on the way? Flat tire. Traffic accident. So check the afternoon temperatures as well. Also realize that the breeders almost always have a live arrival guarantee, but that that guarantee may be only for picking up at the hub. And, this is reasonable. That is how much we in the chameleon community do not like the delivery leg of the journey. Now, to be fair, I have, in my decades of doing this, had packages dropped off at my door. I have never had a dead chameleon. So the chances are that everything will go as it should without incident – even if you have it delivered to your doorstep. But, the risks of something unexpected happening skyrocket. So, it is worth removing those risks from the equation. I know it is an inconvenience. But there is a lot at stake here.
Finally, communicate with your breeder. Text, email, pictures, video..whatever. Close that loop. A reputable breeder will be monitoring the progress and will want to know that the chameleon got in okay. Chameleon breeding is a difficult way to make money. Breeders do this as a business because they are accepting a paycheck that is partially paid in passion for what they are doing. So, the chameleon you get is not just a unit of inventory. They raised that baby up and care about it. So, put their mind at ease and let them know it got in okay. I have been guilty of this before. I get a chameleon in as expected, put it in its cage for rest, waters and food, and go on with my day. And the poor breeder is sending me texts asking the status. Be kind to your breeder and let them know!
So, how do you feel about shipping? You are right to be suspect and check into it. And I hope I eased your fears a bit.
Now, if you are discovering this episode and are not aware of the extensive information resource that the Chameleon Academy is, I invite you to explore the world of videos, podcasts, website, weekly live shows, social media, and even a digital magazine devoted to chameleons that is available for you to immerse yourself in. There is a lot there, but the first step would be to go to chameleon academy dot com and sign up for the monthly email newsletter. When you sign up you will get a tour of the chameleon academy in your email. It is the easiest way to get orientated to everything that has been built up! And you will be kept up to date as to what is going on in this very dynamic outreach. If there was one place I would send someone trying to put their arms around everything that is available, the newsletter would be it! Just go to chameleon academy dot com and click on the newsletter sign up, confirm the signup in your email, and you will be good to go.
And, if you are in the process of getting equipment, I can offer you a coupon code for thebiodude dot com. CHAMELEON10 will get you 10% off almost everything on the website – some cages are not included in this. But there are replacement T5 UVB bulbs, bio active soil, I use the Terra Firma, and Mist king systems among many other products. CHAMELEON10 in the coupon code field gets you 10% off and I will get credit as an affiliate. I was using so much of their bioactive soil I figured I best become an affiliate! It is really good stuff and it is a good company. I have interviewed Josh Halter, the owner, on my Reptile Entrepreneur podcast and you can tell he cares for his employees and his customers. This is something I feel good about. It helps me and it helps you so it is a win-win-win. So, use CHAMELEON10 and get your 10% discount.
And with that it is time to get on with the next episode. Have a good week, sign up for the newsletter, and save your 10%. This is Bill Strand signing off. Thank you very much for joining me here, and I will see you next time!
Links from the Podcast Episode
I hope this review of the issues shipping chameleons has been useful. The Panther Chameleon Podcast is part of the Chameleon Academy Outreach. On this Panther Chameleon Podcast, I take on aspects of starting with panther chameleons that will directly benefit a person just starting off. Please note that you have an entire detailed panther chameleon care summary here on chameleonacademy.com. This has been put together as a free resource to ensure the widest number of people can get a good start with their panther chameleon. If you would like to support this outreach you can do so at the Chameleon Academy Patreon page linked below and that helps keep this all running.
Getting a panther chameleon is a step to an incredible new world and an experience you will remember for your entire life. And I am going to do what I can to make sure it is a great one. If you would like to ask questions about any of this, check the Chameleon Academy home page for the schedule of when I do live interactive sessions on YouTube and Instagram.
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