The most endangered species in the crocodilian family. Only fewer than 120 alligators left in the wild. The wild populations are still rapidly declining due to extreme habitat fragmentation and loss, also, their food resources are contaminated by fertilizer and pesticide used for agriculture. Unless extreme actions are taken, the Chinese alligator will become extinct in the wild.
The lower Yangtze River was once characterized by extensive floodplain marshes, lakes, and seasonally inundated wetlands that provided abundant habitat for the Chinese alligator. However, nearly 7,000 years ago, the demands of a burgeoning human population resulted in widespread conversion of alligator habitat to rice field agriculture, leading to the demise of Chinese alligator populations throughout the region. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, Chinese alligators had disappeared from much of their former range and were restricted to small wetlands along the lower Yangtze River. Population declines continued unabated owing to further wetland conversion, and by the mid-1970s, Chinese alligators were confined to a small area of southern Anhui and adjacent Zhejiang provinces. A survey in 1999 found wild Chinese alligators present at only 10 of 13 sites, with the largest group containing a maximum of 10-11 animals and a single adult female.
Today, the Chinese alligator is widely regarded as the most endangered crocodilian in the world: it is ranked as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, listed in Appendix I of CITES, and considered a Class I Endangered Species in China. The Chinese alligator is also listed as one of 15 “precious and rare species” in a strategic plan for wildlife conservation in China developed in 2001. Current estimates place the total wild Chinese alligator population at fewer than 150 individuals, and these occur in highly fragmented populations, none of which contains more than 20 individuals. Although surveys conducted since 1999 suggest the wild population of Chinese alligators is stable or slowly increasing, prospects for the long-term survival of wild Chinese alligators appear bleak because of the extinction risks inherent in small populations.
WCS believes that Chinese alligators are an excellent candidate for reintroduction because wild populations are nearing extinction, large numbers can be reared in captivity, a burgeoning population of captive-reared alligators currently exists, and captive-reared crocodilians generally adapt well to life in the wild following release. With the ultimate goal of achieving a viable population of wild Chinese alligators, WCS has been collaborating with the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Management of the State Forestry Administration of China to reintroduce Chinese alligators, identify and prioritize sites for future reintroductions, and implement educational outreach to local communities. WCS has contributed captive-bred Chinese alligators for reintroduction, and expertise and equipment to monitor reintroduced alligators, which have subsequently been confirmed to have reproduced in the wild. Working with experts from the Anhui Chinese Alligator Nature Reserve and the National Wildlife Research and Development Center of the State Forestry Administration, WCS developed a set of criteria for selecting suitable sites for future releases of alligators. To highlight the important ecological and cultural roles of Chinese alligators, WCS has worked with the Anhui Chinese Alligator Nature Reserve and the Education and Sports Bureau of Xuancheng City to hold an education training workshop, which was attended by 40 principals of primary schools distributed throughout the range of Chinese alligators.