photo: Unforth via Flickr
Only 120 Yangtze alligators live in the wild. The Yangtze River, the alligators' natural habitat, is so polluted that the ecological damage has been called "largely irreversible." Poaching is another obstacle to the reptiles' recovery. The alligators are considered a delicacy, and the meat is thought to cure colds and cancer. In 2006, with only 150 specimens in the wild, farm-raised Yangtze alligators were still being served in restaurants. Things looked bleak for the world's most endangered crocodilian species.
But despite these insurmountable odds, the alligators have been marshaling a comeback. The March of the Yangtze Alligators
Experts believe that the alligator population has a good chance of doubling within five to ten years. This is due to an apparent increase in the alligator's living and breeding territories
Wang Chaolin, Chinese Alligators Protection Nature Reserve deputy director:
We have, for the first time, found wild baby alligators. Normally their survival rate is only 2 percent. "The finding of the infants indicates the number of the species is increasing.
We've also found new tracks of the animal in more sites in Wuhu City, once a major habitat of the reptile.
Yangtze Alligator Breeding Programs
The breeding programs have played an integral role in the resurgence of the Yangtze alligators. The alligators breed successfully in captivity, almost too successfully. In 1988, the Chinese Alligator Breeding Research Center had 4,000 specimens in captivity. Now, they have over 10,000. The researchers are concerned that the alligators may become inbred, which would severely hamper their ability to survive in the wild.
Of the 10,000 alligators, only about six are released into the wild per year. (There are few safe places to release them.) Half of the center's alligators will be delivered to zoos around the world, and the rest will live out their natural lives within the confines of the research facility.