In a social media world brimming with photoshopped thigh gaps and manipulated selfies, a humble chameleon in New York City is doing it his own way.
Meet Winston, Instagram’s most beloved Veiled chameleon – who has a seriously dedicated fan base.
“Winston is a very simple chameleon, he loves the sun, he loves trees, he loves women. He loves the simple things in life – that’s what matters,” owner Justin tells Yahoo News Australia.
He runs the @Datboi_Winston account with his Brooklyn housemate, Zack, who say they’re trying to tell the chameleon’s story to the world.
They keep the focus squarely on Winston and his misadventures, almost as an antidote for “people who are consumed by a lot of dumb stuff on social media”.
A chance encounter leads to new friend
About a year and a half ago, Justin and Zack stumbled upon a rundown pet store in the Brooklyn suburb of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“We came across this really hood pet store,” Justin explained.
“We had no intention of buying a pet of any kind and then we met Winston and we just had to have him.”
Veiled chameleons are native to the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, so it goes without saying that the concrete jungle of Brooklyn is not his natural habitat.
Just like the stuff that Winston likes, the origins of the Instagram account are simple. The pair had seen a photo online of a chameleon holding a sword and did what any of us would do.
“We realised we could probably make Winston hold a bunch a stuff,” Justin recalled.
Fast forward to today, and the Instagram account has more than 10,000 followers and a legion of fans, including one dedicated follower who got him permanently inked on his forearm.
Others make little outfits for Winston and send them to New York.
“We got sent a little pair of dragon wings that someone sent us that he hasn’t used yet,” Justin said.
‘We’ve had a little controversy over the photos’
Before you get any ideas, it would be very difficult to have a similar Instagram account as it’s against the law for private citizens to own a Veiled chameleon as a pet in Australia.
Justin admits there has been some backlash from animal welfare activists angry over Winston’s unconventional living situation, or particular videos of the animal shared online.
“We’ve had a little controversy over the photos from animal activists,” he said, but he is adamant that the lizard is very well looked after.
“This is probably the best treated chameleon ever. Our living room is basically a jungle that we’ve built for him.”
Winston does have a cage, but is rarely in it. That often means the mornings can be a mad scramble to find where he is, in order to give him his breakfast of insects and worms.
Fortunately he doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry.
“He could be compared to a sloth in terms of his speed,” Justin said.
But they do require a lot of care.
“They need certain kinds of light every day, they need calcium, food and water daily. With other reptiles you can kind of mess up and forget but chameleons are pretty fragile.”
A typical lifespan for a Veiled chameleon is only about five years for a female and up to eight years for a male, however that can be much less when in captivity.
But if Winston lives a full life, his best days are still ahead of him.
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