Species: Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: The Chinese alligator is one of the world’s smallest crocodilians, reaching only two metres in length.
The Chinese alligator is one of the most endangered crocodilians in the world. Once widely distributed throughout the eastern Yangtze River system in China, it is now mainly restricted to a small reserve in the Anhui Province of the lower Yangtze. The Chinese alligator inhabits temperate regions and spends six to seven months of the year hibernating in a complex underground burrow system. This species hunts at night, feeding mainly on aquatic molluscs such as snails and mussels, which it crushes in its teeth. Some fish, waterbirds and small mammals are also taken. The Chinese alligator nests between July and August, laying around 10 to 50 eggs in a mound nest constructed from plant materials. Although originally found in slow-moving rivers and swampy areas, the Chinese alligator is now restricted to agricultural pools within reserves.
The Chinese alligator population has undergone a severe decline, with surveys in 1999 finding only 130 to 150 wild individuals. The main cause of this decline is the conversion of wetlands to agriculture to support the region’s growing human population. The Chinese alligator also comes into conflict with farmers, as its burrows can cause drainage problems in fields and it may feed on farmers’ ducks. International trade in the Chinese alligator is banned under its listing on Appendix I of CITES, although the skin of this species is fairly worthless on the international market. Fortunately, captive breeding of Chinese alligators has been very successful, and a large captive population now exists. Some reintroductions have begun, and the Chinese government has allocated money towards the creation of new alligator habitat. It will also be important to educate local people about the importance of this secretive reptile.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author