Chinese alligator (
Alligator sinensis) (simplified Chinese:
扬子鳄; traditional Chinese: 揚子鱷, yáng zǐ è), also known
as the Yangtze alligator, is one of two known living species of
Alligator, a genus in the family Alligatoridae. This critically
endangered species is endemic to eastern China.
2 Distribution and habitat
4 Threatened status and conservation
4.1 In captivity
4.1.2 North America and Europe
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Detail of head
While its appearance is very similar to the only other living member
of the genus, the
American alligator (
Alligator mississippiensis), a
few differences exist. Usually, this species attains an adult length
of only 1.5 m (5 ft) and a mass of 36 kg (80 lb).
Exceptionally large males have reached 2.1 m (7 ft) in
length and 45 kg (100 lb) in weight. Reports are known of
alligators in China reaching 3.0 m (10 ft) in centuries
past, but these are now generally considered apocryphal. Unlike the
American alligator, the
Chinese alligator is fully armored; even its
belly—a feature of only a few crocodilians.
Distribution and habitat
Chinese alligator lives in a subtropical, warm temperate
region. The Chinese alligator's usual habitat was in places of
low-elevation and freshwater sources. This includes marshes, lakes,
streams, and ponds.
The alligator originally ranged through much of China. However, in the
Chinese alligator was found only in the southern area of
Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) from
Pengze to the western shore of
Lake Tai (Tai Hu), in the mountainous regions of southern Anhui, and
Zhejiang provinces. They were usually found in the
lakes, streams, and marshes for a time. But in the 1970s, the species
was restricted to a small part of southern
Anhui and the Zhejiang
provinces. Then, in 1998 the biggest area the alligator lived in
was a small pond along the
Yangtze River surrounded by farmland, and
only 11 alligators lived inside of it. At this point, the
alligator's geographic range had been reduced by 90%. The Chinese
alligator's population reduction has been mostly due to conversion of
its habitat to agricultural use and pollution. A
majority of their usual wetland habitats has been turned into rice
paddies. Poisoning of rats, which the alligators then eat, has
also been blamed for their decline. It was also not uncommon for
people to kill the alligators, because they believed they were pests,
out of fear, or for their meat.
Pliocene remains have been uncovered in Japan.
Chinese alligator remains dormant during the winter, residing in
burrows built into banks of wetlands. Once the spring comes the
burrows are still used, just not as much. The alligators spend most of
their time raising their body temperature in the sun. Once their body
heat is high enough they become nocturnal. They can regulate their
body temperature by using the water, moving into the shade when they
begin to get too hot and moving into the sun if they begin to get too
cold. Chinese alligators are also considered the most docile of the
crocodilian order, but, as with any crocodilian, they are capable
of inflicting grievous bodily harm.
Though usually solitary, the
Chinese alligator participates in
bellowing choruses during the spring mating season. Both sexes
participate in rough unison and during the chorus the alligators
remain still. The choruses last on average about 10 minutes and
interestingly enough respond to both the chorus of both genders
equally. It has been theorized that this is because the chorus is not
a mating competition, simply a way for mating groups to gather
together. It has also been theorized, however, that these choruses
do not serve any purpose. Once mating groups have gathered male
Chinese alligators impregnate only one female per season. Mating
usually results in around 20-30 eggs. The eggs of the Chinese
alligator are actually the smallest of any crocodilian. Their eggs are
even smaller than other crocodilians with smaller female body
Threatened status and conservation
Chinese alligator is a class one endangered species and listed as
CITES Appendix I
CITES Appendix I species, which puts extreme restrictions on its
trade and exportation throughout the world. It is currently classified
Critically Endangered on the
IUCN Red List. To make that list,
the species must have a decline of greater than 80% of the species
population in a certain area of occupancy. In 1999, it was estimated
by the Wildlife Conservation Society that there were only around 150
individuals left in the wild. This coincided with a reversal of
its decline in the wild, the population stabilizing between 1998 and
2003, followed by a slow and ongoing increase.
Chinese alligators at Shanghai Zoo
With the help of the council of China, alligator habitat has been
restored and protected. Most remaining wild individuals live in the
433 km2 (167 sq mi)
Chinese alligator is mainly endangered because of habitat
pollution and reduction, as their distribution areas are turned into
rice paddies. Poaching is also a concern because in traditional
Chinese medicine the meat was considered to be a cure for the cold and
to prevent cancer. The organs are also believed to have medicinal
Extermination is also an issue, as farmers considered them a menace.
There are many other factors that led to the endangerment of the
alligator such as natural disasters, geographic separation, and
In several restaurants and food centers in China's booming areas,
young and immature alligators were allowed to roam free with their
mouths taped shut. They were subsequently killed for human
consumption as, in China, alligator meat was thought to cure colds and
prevent cancer. In China, the organs of the
Chinese alligator were
sold as cures for a number of ailments.
Captive breeding programs, the first initiated in the 1970s, have been
successful for the species, with over 10,000 Chinese alligators living
in captivity. Captive-born Chinese alligators have been
reintroduced back into their native range, to boost the wild
population. These releases have proven successful with individuals
adapting well to a life in the wild and also breeding.
The two largest breeding centers are located in, or near, the area
where Chinese alligators are still found in the wild. The largest of
Anhui Research Center for Chinese
(ARCCAR), was founded in 1979, and stocked with over 200 alligators
collected from the wild over the following decade. It also
received alligator eggs collected by the area's residents or ARCCAR's
own staff in the nests of wild alligators. The center is located
on the outskirts of the city of
118°46′20″E / 30.90833°N 118.77222°E / 30.90833;
118.77222), where it makes use of a series of ponds in a small
valley. The alligator breeding was so successful that ARCARR began
to use the alligators for local meat consumption and live animals for
the European pet market. The profits from these activities went to
continuing funding the breeding centers. ARCCAR alone has more
than 10,000 Chinese alligators.
The other major breeding center is the Changxing Nature Reserve and
Breeding Center for Chinese Alligators (CNRBRCCA), located in
Zhejiang Province, some 92 km east of ARCCAR
(30°55′15″N 119°44′00″E / 30.92083°N 119.73333°E
/ 30.92083; 119.73333); it was earlier known as Yinjiabian Alligator
Conservation Area (尹家边扬子鳄保护区; established
1982). Unlike ARCCAR, where alligator eggs are collected by
the center's staff for incubation in controlled condition, at
Changxing they are allowed to hatch naturally. According to a 2013
official report quoted by Liu (2013), CNRBRCCA housed almost 4,000
alligators, including over 2,000 young ones (1–3 years old), over
1,500 juveniles (4–12 years old), and 248 adults (13+ years
Both ARCARR and the Changxing Center position themselves as tourist
attractions, where paying visitors can view alligators and learn about
North America and Europe
Although by far the largest number of captive Chinese alligators are
at centers in its native country, the species is also kept and bred at
many zoos and aquariums in North America and Europe. Some individuals
bred there have been returned to China for reintroduction to the
Among the North American zoos and aquariums keeping this species are
Bronx Zoo, Potawatomi Zoo, Toledo Zoo, Memphis Zoo,
St. Louis Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, and San Diego
Zoo. In Europe, about 25 zoos and aquariums keep the species, such as
Tierpark Berlin (Germany), Wildlands Adventure Zoo Emmen
Pairi Daiza (Belgium),
Bioparco di Roma
Bioparco di Roma (Italy),
Barcelona Zoo (Spain),
Crocodile Zoo (Denmark),
Parken Zoo (Sweden),
Paradise Wildlife Park
Paradise Wildlife Park (England),
Prague Zoo (Czech Republic), Tallinn
Zoo (Estonia), and
Moscow Zoo (Russia).
Wildlife of China
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