Gland, Switzerland (26.09.01) IUCN-The World Conservation Union. Significant steps towards the conservation of the last "wild dragons" in China have been made thanks to the hard work of IUCN's Crocodile Specialist Group members and Chinese and international experts.
he Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) locally known as "Tu long", or the Earth Dragon, is perilously close to extinction in the wild.Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) by Peter Jackson The Chinese government has been very successful in breeding these unique alligators in captivity, but recent surveys have revealed that no more than 150 individuals remain in the wild, mainly in areas of rice cultivation in the lower Yangtze River valley. Land use pressures for agriculture have swallowed up all of the alligator's natural habitat, and the last animals are found in a variety of small ponds in farming communities.
A future for the alligator was being planned at a recent meeting in Hefei, China, sponsored by the State Forestry Administration (SFA) of China, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group, WWF-China and the Australia-China Council. The meeting brought together experts from five Chinese provinces, and the central Chinese government, as well as Australia, the United States, Japan and Germany to discuss China's bold initiative to rebuild wild populations of alligators and their habitats. The strategy focused on consolidating the few remaining wild groups of alligators in Anhui Province and establishing new wild populations through the release of captive-bred alligators into areas of suitable habitat in Anhui and other provinces.
The strong commitment of the Chinese government to ensure the alligators survived in captivity has been critical to the pledge to return them to nature. A draft action plan was extensively discussed and reviewed at the workshop and is now being considered again by the SFA. At a follow-up meeting of the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group in Guangzhou, the results of the Anhui workshop were discussed, approved and applauded by a wide spectrum of Chinese wildlife officials and international experts on crocodile and alligator conservation.
The new plan will serve as a blueprint for activities that will reverse a 7,000 year old trend of habitat loss and population decline for the Chinese alligator in the Yangtze River basin.
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