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Chinese Crocodile Lizard

Shinisaurus crocodilurus


There are perhaps no more than 1,000 individuals of the Endangered Chinese crocodile lizard — which is found in southern China and northern Vietnam — remaining in the wild today.

This unusual lizard is so named due to the two rows of scales along the top of its muscular tail, resembling a miniaturised crocodile tail. Just like crocodiles, the Chinese crocodile lizard is a powerful swimmer, and prefers to dwell on branches which overhang slow moving streams and ponds.

Little is known about the Chinese crocodile lizard. Individuals appear to be mostly solitary except during the breeding season, when males become even more brightly coloured, and during the winter, when individuals will group together for communal hibernation.

The Chinese crocodile lizard is the sole surviving species in both its genus and its family, Shinisauridae. Should this species become extinct, we stand to lose an entire branch of the tree of life — a branch that stretches back more than 100 million years. That is 40 million years before the extinction of the dinosaurs, and around the time of the emergence of modern birds!

The Chinese crocodile lizard is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Population surveys indicate the species may have declined by more than 80% in the past 40 years, and the remaining populations are highly fragmented. The major threats to the future of this unique lizard are habitat loss and harvesting for both domestic use and the international pet trade. Individuals can be worth the equivalent of two month’s salary for hunters, thus the economic incentive is significant.

Although the species does occur in protected areas, more than 50% of remaining populations are not protected. The species is listed in CITES Appendix I, and ex-situ conservation will be an important strategy for the survival of this species.

  • Order: Squamata
  • Family: Shinisauridae
  • Population: 1,000
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 42cm (?)

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 6.73 (?)
ED Score: 103.425 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


The Chinese crocodile lizard is known to persist in only two Provinces in southern China (Guangdong and Guangxi). The species occurs on the slopes of Yen Tu Mountain in Vietnam, more than 500 km from the nearest Chinese population.

Habitat and Ecology

The Chinese crocodile lizard favours densely vegetated subtropical forests between 200 – 1,500 m above sea level. The species is semi-aquatic and is associated with slow-moving streams and pools, where individuals will rest on branches overhanging the water below. Individuals are diurnal and their diet is thought to consist of insects, tadpoles and small fish.

Hibernation is triggered by the water temperature dropping below 15.5°C, between November and March, when individuals will hibernate together in tree holes or rock crevices. This lizard is viviparous and, after a gestation period of nine months, gives birth to up to 12 young.

Find out more

Download the Survival Blueprint for this species below. Each survival blueprint is compiled by an EDGE Fellow working on the species with input from collaborators and stakeholders. The Survival Blueprint provides a status review (information on the distribution, protection status, habitat & ecology, threat and stakeholder analysis) and more information on the action programme listed here.

Vision (30-50 years)

A long-term viable population of Vietnamese crocodile lizard is sustained in natural habitats

Goal (5-10 years)

Enhancing in-situ conservation measures for the Vietnamese Crocodile Lizard


Capacity building for patrolling monitoring with a focus on the Vietnamese crocodile lizard High
Assessing the hunting and trafficking activities over the distribution range of the species and on-site markets High
Raise awareness of law protection of the crocodile lizard for local people within or near its distribution range and for traders High
Developing pathogen screening protocol for the crocodile lizard and undertaking disease risk analyses High
Establish whether the Vietnamese population should be considered a separate species using molecular analyses High
Identifying priority sites for re-introduction of the Vietnamese crocodile lizard Medium

Hanh Ngo

  • Project name: Strengthening conservation of the Crocodile Lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus) in Vietnam
  • Project site: North-east Vietnam
  • Active: 2019 - 2022
Find out more