I was lucky enough to join a team of IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group (CSG) colleagues to travel to China and meet with key researchers and conservationists trying to save the legendary Chinese Dragon, or most commonly known as, the Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis). A few of us invited were part of the Future Leaders Task Force of the CSG- a group of “young” crocodilian enthusiasts who are, in a sense, being trained to one day lead the CSG and hopefully continue the legacy of our predecessors. So, my travels to China were not only to assist with the knowledge that I could give, but also to gain some knowledge and experience for future similar excursions.
After arriving in Wuhu at 3am, I met up with my CSG colleagues from 6 different countries and 6 different continents to meet up with Professor Wu from Anuhui Normal University. Professor Wu and his lab are working on various projects with the Chinese alligator, which includes genetics, acoustics, reproduction, and parasitology. Besides meetings and presentations, our visit included visiting some re-introduction sites as well as Chinese alligator breeding centers. Although there is < 300 Chinese alligators in the wild, there are about 28,000 in captivity, and that’s just in China! So I hate to burst the bubble of many who are campaigning to save the Chinese alligator because this species is not likely to go extinct any time soon, per se. This species breeds extremely well in captivity, and it’s likely there numbers are going to continue to increase in breeding centers around the world. HOWEVER, where we really need to put our energy and funding is towards preserving what habitat remains, as well as restoration of habitat. Habitat destruction is the primary danger for the success of re-introductions of this species. Prof. Wu has already worked the last 30 years in constructing or restoring habitat for re-stocking wild populations, and has done a great job so far. We hope the best for Prof Wu and his team to continue to get the funding needed, as well as the land needed, to release more alligators back into the wild.
And of course with the re-introduction of alligators, education is a priority. Along with the environmental state department in China, Prof Wu, as well as Prof Fang from Zheijiang University who has done some wonderful work at the Changxing Yinjiabian Chinese Alligator Nature Reserve Changxing, will be creating public outreach programs to educate the local communities about the cultural and ecological importance of the Chinese Alligator.
It is encouraging to see the amount of conservation effort going into the Chinese alligator locally, nationally, and internationally. The Chinese alligator has a promising future as long as habitat is secured and as long as the current energy and efforts continue. Hopefully in thirty years from now conservationists will discuss how the Chinese alligator got on the list as one of the greatest conservation stories ever.