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Population in the wild continues to rise

Pub Date:2023-10-19 09:27 Source:China Daily

This year, 200 Chinese alligators that were bred and raised at the Anhui Chinese Alligator National Nature Reserve in Anhui province were released into the wild.

The release has raised the number of the animals living in the wild in the province to more than 1,600.

The Chinese alligator is a unique, rare species that is only found in China. It is classified as a first-class key protected wild animal by the State.

In order to expand the wild alligator population and change its "critically endangered" status, the Chinese Alligator Conservation and Reintroduction Project was approved by the National Forestry Bureau in November 2001. It is one of 15 key rescue projects for wild animals and plants in the country.

From 2003 to 2018, Anhui conducted 14 experimental reintroduction programs, releasing 108 artificially bred Chinese alligators into the wild. In 2019, a scaled reintroduction plan was launched to release 1,500 alligators over a five-year period, based on a systematic summary of previous experimental reintroduction trials.

From 2019 to last year, 1,300 artificially bred alligators were released.

According to data from recent field surveys, the number of Chinese alligators in the wild is still rising, their distribution range is expanding and their population structure is better balanced. The majority of those released have adapted to the wild environment and reproduced naturally.

Last year, a field survey conducted before that year's batch was released found 698 Chinese alligators, while 26 nests with 602 eggs were discovered, resulting in 372 juveniles hatching.

According to data from this year's most recent survey, the number of Chinese alligators in the wild was approximately 1,200 by May. In August, after this year's batch was released, the number was estimated to be 1,400.

The reserve in Anhui is home to more than 10,000 of the animals. The staff members ensure that they get enough food, have a comfortable living area and a safe environment in which to reproduce.

"After decades of efforts, the number of these animals is no longer small. Reproduction is no longer a problem, but the wild environment will still need years to fully recover in terms of areas such as the food chain, as well as the ecosystem of plants and companion animals," said Zhou Yongkang, a researcher with the reserve's administration.

The facility was established in 1982, and upgraded to a national reserve in 1986 as understanding of the urgency and awareness of protecting the alligators rose. In the reserve, there are seven national key protected plant species — including trees such as cypresses and ginkgos — and 30 national key protected animal species, including Chinese alligators, clouded leopards and musk deer.

He Shaowei, the administration's director, said that releasing alligators into the wild is an important measure to revitalize the wild population.

He explained that in order to ensure the effectiveness of the reintroduction program, experts undertake a range of preparatory measures, including surveys of resources, restoration of the ecosystem and the selection of mating pairs.

Field surveys can assess the population and habitat of the alligators in the wild, scientifically determine the best release locations and the number to be released.

Meanwhile, ecosystem restoration measures have seen the introduction of aquatic plants and the release of fish fry in a targeted manner at each release site, thus nurturing the food chain for Chinese alligators and creating a more suitable wild habitat.

Moreover, the scientific selection of pairs involves using DNA analysis to select healthy, genetically diverse and gender-balanced alligators for release.

In addition, researchers implant identification microchips in all the alligators that are released and some of them are also fitted with satellite tracking devices.

Later, a combination of manual and smart methods is used for tracking, monitoring and research into methods of protection.

Editor:Zheng Chen

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