The Critically Endangered Chinese alligator is the only species in its entire family found outside of the Americas. Its closest living relative is the famous American alligator.
The Chinese alligator is one of the smaller species of crocodilian, growing to only around 2 metres in length. This is in sharp contrast to their sister species, the American alligator, which can reach more than twice their size. These secretive alligators spend a large part of the year in complex networks of underground burrows containing above and below-ground pools of water. Extensive use of these burrows has allowed the species to persist in wetlands surrounded by densely populated areas.
Genetic evidence suggests this diminutive crocodilian split from its American sister around 40 million years ago and, together, the alligators split from all other living creatures around the same time as the extinction of their close relatives, the dinosaurs!
Sadly, this unique alligator is on the brink of extinction, with around only 100 individuals remaining in the wild. The species has experienced extreme population declines and a drastic reduction in range and is therefore listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. The main factors driving this decline have been habitat loss, fragmentation, pollution and hunting. Though hunting pressure is now much reduced, the loss of habitat has been virtually complete.
However, conservation efforts are underway for the Chinese alligator. Monitoring programmes have been established alongside large-scale captive breeding endeavours. Following the identification and restoration of suitable habitat, multiple successful reintroductions of captive-bred individuals have occurred, indicating the species may be able to adapt to restored habitat following captive breeding efforts.
- Order: Crocodylia
- Family: Alligatoridae
- Population: 92-114
- Trend: stable
- Size: 2m (?)
- Weight: 36kg (?)
The Chinese alligator was formerly widely distributed across the Lower Yangtze River basin but, following extreme habitat loss and population declines, it now appears to be restricted to the Anhui Province of China, with possible small populations persisting in Zhejiang and Jiangsu Provinces.
Habitat and Ecology
Due to the high latitudes at which this species occurs, it spends large parts of the year hibernating in complex networks of underground burrows. As almost all of the original habitat of the species has been lost, it now occurs mainly in remnant wetlands and ponds surrounded by agricultural land.
The Chinese alligator is nocturnal and feeds on aquatic molluscs, fish and will take birds and mammals when possible. This species nests between July and August, laying up to 40 eggs in terrestrial mound nests.