June 6, 2003 NEW YORK (JUNE 5, 2003) -- Three adult Chinese alligators – the world's most endangered crocodilian species – were successfully released in China recently by a team of biologists in an effort to help restore the species to the Yangtze River valley, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced today.
Currently numbering less than 130 individuals, wild populations of Chinese alligators are currently relegated to a few drainage ditches and farm ponds in China's Anhui Province, with their numbers continuing to decline as much as six percent annually. The three released animals came from an alligator breeding center. Scientists equipped each individual with a radio transmitter to track its movements.
The team, which included members of WCS, Anhui Forest Department, and East China Normal University, chose a site called Hong Xin, a 20-acre artificial lake used for rice and tea farming. The pond already contains a few individual alligators, and biologists are hopeful that release of the new animals will increase breeding opportunities.
"This is an experimental release designed to see how feasible it will be to use captive-reared alligators for future reintroduction programs," said WCS conservationist Dr. John Thorbjarnarson. "It will also help scientists understand more about the behavior and ecology of this species, and how resident alligators may adapt to the presence of new animals."
The Chinese alligator, known locally as Tu Long, or "muddy dragon," is one of just two alligator species in the world, having diverged from their American counterparts at least 20 million years ago. They reach lengths of about six feet -- only half the size of American alligators -- and feed on small fish, snails, crayfish. Among crocodilians, the Chinese alligator is the most endangered, followed by the Philippine, Siamese, Cuban and Orinoco crocodiles. WCS is currently working to protect all five species.
The future survival of the Chinese alligator outside of breeding centers will depend on the success of efforts to bolster existing groups, or establish new groups of individuals by releasing captive-bred animals into areas of suitable habitat, according to WCS. At its Bronx Zoo headquarters, WCS maintains a population of Chinese alligators, and is the leader of its Species Survival Plan, which involves a network of zoos working to maintain healthy captive populations.
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