Search on for chameleon culprits

Search on for chameleon culprits

HAMPAIGN — Champaign police and the owners of an exotic pet store are hoping whoever stole a baby chameleon from the store last week will return it before it gets ill.

“I’m more concerned about getting the reptile back and getting him in a safe environment,” said Lou Cwaygel, wife of Sailfin Pet Shop owner John Cwaygel.

“The chameleon has dietary needs, specific heating (requirements). He has to have certain light and foods. We’re the only ones in town who sell live crickets. And they have to be gut-loaded,” she said, meaning the crickets have to be fed certain foods to sustain life higher up the food chain.

The tale of the missing Oustalet’s chameleon began about 2 p.m. Friday, when two young men, a woman and a baby in an infant carrier came in the store at 720 S. Neil St., C.

Cwaygel pieced together what happened to the about foot-long $300 reptile through surveillance video that she reviewed before contacting Champaign police about the theft.

“We have full video of him opening the cage. He picked it up, put it to his chest and walked around the store,” she said.

While calling the man’s actions “brazenly bold,” Cwaygel said it’s common for customers to carry their own exotic animals around the store.

“People bring in reptiles and guinea pigs and the like so we can enjoy them. That’s why no one noticed” the theft, she said.

That is, until the second of two daily cage checks near closing time about 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Cwaygel said the staff noted the missing chameleon, but since she wasn’t working and is the only one who knows how to operate the high-definition surveillance equipment, it was Monday before she put together what happened.

“It was very clear. I did not recognize the people,” she said.

Sgt. Dave Griffet opined — and the pictures support — that all three suspects are white and in their 20s.

Cwaygel said she noticed that the young woman with eyeglasses and long brown hair, wearing a coral-colored zippered sweatshirt with letters on the front, came in first.

“I saw her looking at the chameleon, then she takes (the thief) to the animal. He opens the door, she scoots off, and he reaches in, gets the animal, takes it out and continues to walk through the store with it,” she said. “They were there about an hour.”

The man who took the chameleon removed it from the store while toting an infant carrier with a baby in it. He was wearing a white hooded sweatshirt, a dark coat and beige shoes. He has a brown beard and eyeglasses.

“He had the baby in the carrier and the blanket you would cover the baby with, he draped over his arm to cover the chameleon. He walks out and then comes back in and has the nerve to come up to the counter and straighten up the blanket to cover the baby,” Cwaygel said.

The second man, who was with the other two, was wearing a grey sleeveless T-shirt with a bear on the front, dark pants and a dark baseball cap.

Cwaygel said she posted news of the theft on the store’s Facebook page, hoping that the trio would see it and “do the right thing because this animal needs specific care.”

“It’s sad because the poor thing can’t help himself. It can’t find his own food,” she said.

Depending on what it’s perched on, the fairly rare chameleon that hails from Madagascar can appear green or brown, she said.

It had been at the store about three weeks and was the only one of its kind at the business.

Anyone with information is asked to call Champaign police at 217-351-4545. Those who wish to remain anonymous and/or possibly collect a reward can contact Crime Stoppers at 217-373-8477 or 373tips.com or via the free "P3 Tips" mobile app.

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rsp wrote on March 20, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Just to point out, lizards can carry salmonella, so if he covered it with the baby blanket and they then used the blanket on the baby it's at risk. If someone knows them they need to come forward. They clearly aren't thinking about either.

Martin1 wrote on March 20, 2018 at 4:03 pm
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Could be me, but heavy jackets, sweatshirts..........and sleeveless guy