TWO tiny chameleons no bigger than a thimble have been born at Exmoor Zoo.
The baby three-horned chameleons are believed to be the first of their kind born in captivity in a zoo in the UK.
They have spent 16 weeks developing and have hatched from their eggs in the last week, measuring three centimetres each.
Danny Reynolds, the zoo's curator, said: "Two things make these babies just that bit extra special.
"They are probably the first of this species ever born in captivity within UK zoos, and their parents had been rescued from an illegal shipment en route to the Czech Republic.
"The Johnston's chameleon only occurs in the Western branch of the African Rift valley – the Albertine Rift – and is extremely rare in captivity."
An illegal shipment of 59 chameleons was seized in Belgium in May and was set to be destroyed before the Specialist Wildlife Services (SWS) intervened after working with UK customs officials.
The SWS placed the chameleons in British and Irish Aquarium and Zoo Association zoos.
Chameleon eggs have been laid in several other zoos in the UK but the ones at Exmoor Zoo are the first to have actually hatched.
The babies are about the size of a 10 pence piece and are being cared for by the zoo's education officer, Stephen Eddy, who has been feeding them fruit flies and house crickets.
The chameleons are identical miniatures of their parents and can grow up to lengths of 30cm or more.
Danny said the chameleons' parents suffered from a number of problems after they were seized in Belgium, so they needed to be given extra protection.
He said: "Chameleons are very temperamental. We need to get these two going and keep them alive. The adults have come in with all sorts of problems.
"Chameleons are very sensitive to environmental change and these were in very close proximity to each other which they don't like."
The birth of the chameleons could mark the beginning of a captive breeding programme within the UK.
Danny said: "We might end up having to give them to one of the bigger zoos like Bristol or Paignton. But for now we just want to bask in the glory of the great work we have done."