Dozens of rare chameleons that were previously smuggled into Austria in a plane passenger’s socks have had offspring at Vienna Zoo.
A man hid 74 protected species of chameleons in socks and ice cream boxes and tried to sneak them through airport security in January.
He was trying to get the reptiles from Tanzania into Vienna where the animals could fetch a staggering £32,000 (€37,000) on the black market.
But he was busted when his luggage was X-rayed and was instantly arrested.
The majority of the chameleons were in good health and were taken to Vienna Zoo which set up a separate room for the reptiles and hired a specialised zookeeper.
Now, in a tribute to the zoo’s care, many of the chameleons have laid eggs and 12 babies have already hatched over the last two weeks.
The zoo’s director Stephan Hering-Hagenbeck said: ‘Almost every tenth chameleon has now laid eggs. In the wild, they would all be at risk of habitat degradation and smuggling.
‘The first chameleon to hatch was the Nguru pygmy chameleon which is even threatened with extinction due to its small distribution area.’
Nguru pygmy chameleons are remarkably small and can only grow to around 2.4 inches long.
Their offspring is somehow even tinier and get to about 0.4 inches long. Their tails add on about half their size.
Zoo curator Anton Weissenbacher, who is in charge of the animals’ living environments, said: ‘These chameleon species have hardly received human care until now.
‘We contacted a few owners and obtained detailed research in order to meet the animals’ requirements.’
The zoo hopes to fight the extinction of these species by keeping populations in the zoo.
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