Choosing a Dealer

By Kristina Francis & Jason Descamps


Francis, K. & J. Descamps (2005). Choosing a dealer. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, December 2005. (

Choosing a good dealer is one of the most critical steps in purchasing a new chameleon. From species as common as a Ch. calyptratus to rarities such as C. parsonii, from captive born to freshly wild caught, the earliest care an animal receives can determine the rest of its life. Unfortunately, as the reptile hobby has grown over the last decade, so has the greed. For some, profit dictates all actions. This inspires dealers to do things no devoted hobbyist would consider, such as avoid consulting a vet, or sell hatchlings early. As a result, we, the herping consumers, must be even more diligent to protect ourselves and our collections.

So how do we choose a dealer to buy from? There are several factors you must touch upon in order to make an informed purchase. Honesty, reputation, presentation, information and service are all important factors in choosing a dealer. Ultimately you, as the buyer, make the decision to purchase from one dealer as opposed to another.

Honesty - In the world today honesty seems to have taken a lesser role in business. All too often dishonest people crop up in every facet of business, including the chameleon hobby. These individuals strive to make money at any cost and will tell a potential customer anything they want to hear in order to complete the sale. How do we as a customer decide if a dealer is being honest with us? Ask questions. Many times a dishonest dealer will try to back up their stories with outrageous or false claims. Telling a customer that they were the first to breed calyptratus in large numbers, claiming several generations of breeding success without any proof to back it up and other such statements are quite easy to validate with very little research in any reputable book or website. Dealers that claim to have captive bred offspring of rare or uncommonly bred species are more difficult to invalidate, since imported females will often lay viable eggs or give birth to young not long after being imported. While these animals are technically captive born, they are not captive bred, an important distinction due to the myriad of health problems often associated with imported animals. A potential customer's best weapon in this case is references. References need to be obtained from both the seller and ideally information references from other chameleon hobbyists. Many times a fellow hobbyist can give you a tremendous amount of background on a potential dealer and their affinity for honesty.

Reputation - Reputation counts; regardless of how successful a breeder or dealer may be. One bad mark on their reputation could be the difference between success and failure in the business realm. Fortunately for a potential customer, reputation is relatively simple to check. Ask the dealer for references, contact these references and ask them about their experience. Be aware of factors that could influence the purchase such as age and location. In many states entering into a sale with a minor immediately restricts your rights as a consumer, should a problem arise. Ask other chameleon keepers if they have dealt with the dealer and what their impression of them was. Check reputation websites like Fauna Classifieds for customers' dealings with the seller.

Presentation - How a dealer presents themselves often reveals a great deal about how they will conduct business. A dealer with a professional presentation and professional communication skills is far more likely to be in it for the long haul and will have far more invested in the transaction than someone who refuses to answer questions or reveal information prior to a transaction. That being said, there are times when a quality, professional breeder chooses not to have a web presence or a "business" name. This does not mean that they should be avoided, quite the contrary! Some of the best breeders out there today do not sell as a business on the internet. This just means that a bit more work will be required of the buyer to determine if the dealer is trustworthy. More often than not, this is the sort of breeder whose clutches sell by outstanding reputation alone and often have waiting lists.

Look closely at the photos on the ads, web site, and privately provided by the dealer. You can glean a lot of information from a photo that the seller may not volunteer otherwise. Examine the condition of the plants: are they live and robust, or silk and maybe tattered? Are there feces or urates visible? Is it a screen cage? Is it outdoors? Are there other species present within the same cage? Are babies and adults housed together? If there are other chams in the photo, do they look stressed or thin? Does the animal have muted dry skin or look dehydrated? Are there black discolorations (bruises) evident on the ridges of the skull, rostrum, knees, toes, dorsum? Are any species-specific or sexually dimorphic decorations (crests, horns, occipital lobes) missing or damaged? Are its visible limbs straight and sleekly muscled? Is the tail also smoothly meaty and complete to the tip, free of lumps (with the exception of hemipenal bulges in males)? Are there missing claws or swollen toes? Is the visible eye bright, wide, and clear, within a smooth and full turret? Does the vent look stained? What about overall body color, bearing in mind that lighting can be tricky: are the plants greener than the "green" lizard? Is the animal showing stress pattern, stress posture, or other abnormality? Everything you would inspect in person at a herp show, you can learn to assess in photos, except, of course, for hands-on weighing and the temperament of the animal.

Information - The information provided by a dealer often makes or breaks the buyer's chameleon experience. All too often false or misleading information is given to a potential customer. A good dealer will explain the ins and outs of chameleon keeping with the "standard" practices outlined. They will also provide several reliable sources of information like the Chameleons! Online E-zine. A dealer that oversimplifies the husbandry of chameleons is one to be avoided at all costs. Take the time to educate yourself about the species you are seeking, before you contact any dealers or private breeders. With information on your side, you can ask the right questions and make certain the vendor has been keeping the animals properly and to your own satisfaction. If the dealer skimps on husbandry, will they skimp on you, too? How much time will it take to correct their husbandry's effects? Will it set back your own project significantly? With strategic but friendly questioning, you can judge whether a dealer knows how to deliver a quality animal. Anyone who is threatened by a few harmless questions, or "clams up" about their own husbandry, doesn't deserve your money. Claims of raising animals without access to UV lighting, improper housing, advocating the need to only "mist them once a day," and other claims do nothing but set a bad practice in many new chameleon keepers. These keepers then fail with their animals and the entire community suffers the consequences of one poor dealer.

Service - Customer service is a lost art. In every aspect of business the service level is declining, and the chameleon hobby is no different. A dealer that doesn't check email, respond to questions or uses questionable shipping methods should be avoided at all costs. Several good, quality dealers out there provide excellent customer service to their potential buyers. Good dealers take the time to answer questions about the animal in question, send photos, and ensure the animal is healthy before, during, and after the sale. Honest dealers have their Terms of Sale posted publicly online and/or included with their first email to you. Meanwhile, others choose to operate under the radar to snag the unsuspecting buyer with a cheap price or inexpensive shipping, as opposed to servicing the buyer's, and the chameleon's, needs.

Even when buying with caution, sometimes we don't see a scammer coming. If you have had an unsatisfactory transaction, don't just eat the loss and sink into obscurity. Many people have decided that DOAs are the nature of chameleons, and that there is no recompense. This is not true! DOAs should be the exception, not the rule, in chameleon transactions. The dealer should be willing to make replacements or refunds, provided you report your complaint to them as stipulated in their Terms. When the dealer refuses to help, or is silent, and you are within their posted Terms, make some noise! There are forums, like's Board of Inquiry, and vendor regulating systems, like on Kingsnake Classifieds, where you can speak up and help other victims of mail fraud, poor customer service, and even animal abuse be wary of unscrupulous dealers.

In conclusion, the buyer is the ultimate judge of a dealer and their practices. When dealing with chameleons, every day of their lives plays into their future health and viability. Each day that a chameleon sits in a dealer's inventory, and receives their care, it has a tangible effect on its life. Buying from an honest dealer is assurance that your new chameleon will have received a level of care that sets it up for continued good health, throughout its life. Start your pet relationship on the best possible health platform. As always, an educated chameleon keeper is a successful chameleon keeper.

Kristina Francis

Kristina began her journey with chameleons in 1999. She remains a perpetual student of this fascinating lizard family. When not busy caring for her chameleons, she is a professional animal artist. She is the editor of the Melleri Discovery web site, and a moderator of the mellerichams Yahoo! group. She breeds a clutch only once every few years, and shares her data on each species she works with. She volunteers each day to answer questions of fellow hobbyists, via phone and email. It all repays a small measure of the joy of chameleon keeping.

Jason Descamps

Jason Descamps has been keeping and breeding reptiles and amphibians for over 12 years. To date he has worked with over 135 species of reptiles including breeding 18 species of chameleons. His current focus is creating a stable captive chameleon gene pool through the CCBTD and working with rarely bred chameleon species such as C. (Tr.) weidersheimi, C. (Tr.) werneri, and C. (Tr.) fuelleborni. Jason served as an assistant editor for the Chameleons! Online E-Zine from December 2005 through February 2008.


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