Animal of the Month
June 2022

Name: Chinese Alligator

Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodilia
Family: Alligatoridae
Subfamily: Alligatorinae
Genus: Alligator
Species: A. sinensis

Size: About 5-7 feet long.
Weight: 50-85lbs.

Long body, low to the ground, covered in scales, four small legs with claws, long tail; flat, short snout with eyes on top of head and sharp teeth within.

Color(s): Dark gray or black.
Behavior: Aquatic, lives in burrows on land. Hibernates during winter, nocturnal in summer.
Preferred Habitit: Rivers, lakes, and swamps in temperate, subtropical areas.

Range: Restricted areas of eastern China.
Diet: Mostly fish and invertebrates. Also rodents and birds.
Lifespan: At least 50 years in the wild, up to 70 in captivity.


In Chinese mythology, dragons were powerful creatures associated with water, the divine, and good fortune. Some believe that the inspiration for these beautiful myths came from the Chinese alligator! A cousin of the American alligator, the Chinese alligator calls the rivers and marshland of eastern China home.

Chinese alligators are about 5 to 7 feet long, about half the size of the American alligator. Like their American cousins, they live solitary lives in bodies of fresh water. During summer months they are nocturnal, cruising the water for food. Their favorite prey is fish, and invertebrates, though they will also target birds and rodents when possible. Chinese alligators dig burrows near the water to sleep in during the day. These tunnels can be extensive and hold several rooms!

During the winter, Chinese alligators will hibernate in their burrows. During the spring they emerge and spend a lot of time in the sun to warm up.

Mating occurs in early summer. Chinese alligators bellow loudly to attract mates. A single male may mate with multiple females. If you think dating is stressful, reflect on the fact that Chinese alligators of both sexes can be incredibly aggressive toward each other when on their "dates"! After mating, the female will lay as many as four dozen eggs. The hatchlings will communicate with each other through vocalizations before they even hatch! The hatchlings will break from their eggs in September. The mother will help the babies to crack through their shells and watch over them through their first winter. A Chinese alligator reaches adulthood at around 5 to 7 years old.

Chinese alligators are critically endangered. They were once common across eastern Asia, spanning as far as Japan. Over the centuries, they suffered from habitat loss and overhunting. This intensified in the 20th century as much of their habitat was converted to rice paddies and dams. Sometimes they have been killed out of fear; this is irrational as they rarely attack humans. Their meat and organs have also been harvested due to the false belief that they could cure colds, prevent cancer, or provide other medical benefits. As with rhinos, tigers, and other animals targeted for traditional medicines, there is ZERO scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of alligator body parts as medical treatment! This combination of pressure has pushed the Chinese alligator to the brink; in 2005 it was calculated that potentially as few as 92 Chinese alligators were left in the wild.

Fortunately, steps have been taken to preserve this remarkable species. In 1972, China listed the Chinese alligator as a Class I endangered species, which outlaws all hunting of the animal. Wild Chinese alligators are also listed under CITES Appendix I, which prevents all trade. Captive breeding programs in China and abroad have worked tirelessly, and as a result there are over 20,000 Chinese alligators in captivity! Reintroduction efforts continue, albeit slowly, and there are currently fewer than 200 Chinese alligators in the wild. With continued education and habitat preservation, things can only improve past the dark chapter of the 20th century.

To learn more about these marvelous dragons and how to help them, check out these resources:

Wildlife Conservation Society, Chinese Alligator Page-Check out what the WCS is doing to protect the dragons!

The Global Herald, "Aerial China: Yangtze alligators thrive in captive breeding program"-Click here for a brief video on one of the captive breeding programs that's given a lifeline to the Chinese alligator!

As a final note, NEVER, EVER purchase animal products that have been taken for traditional medicine! Alligator parts WILL NOT cure a cold or prevent cancer!


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