Workers carry an adult alligator from a feeding pool. (Wu Fang/China Daily)
On November 27, about 10,000 Chinese alligators were moved from outdoor feeding pools to their winter home at the National Chinese Alligator Natural Reserve in Xuancheng, a city in the eastern province of Anhui.
The reptiles, a Class I protected species that is endemic to East China, are coldblooded, so their metabolism and activity slow during winter, making them easier to handle. The animals, which are also known as Yangtze alligators, will eventually hibernate until spring, when they will be taken back to the outdoor pools.
The reserve, which has been based in the suburbs of Xuancheng since the 1980s, is home to more than 15,000 Chinese alligators, including newly hatched reptiles. It is the world's largest breeding center for the species.
"There are many human-bred Chinese alligators, but in the wild they are on the verge of extinction. There are barely 300 individuals, including some that were born in captivity, but later released into natural surroundings," said Wang Renping, head of the center's information department.
Though the center has made a great contribution to preserving the species from extinction, challenges remain, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified Chinese alligators as "critically endangered".
In November, four alligators bred at the center in Xuancheng were taken to Shizuoka, a city on Japan's Pacific coast.
They were the first to be sent overseas since 2006, when the practice was suspended because the center was in the process of changing its name and was therefore unable to obtain export certificates.
"To the best of our knowledge, the first Chinese alligators to be exported were sent to the United States in the 1950s," Wang said, adding that the reptiles were sent by the former Soviet Union because China and the US had not yet established diplomatic relations.
Sun Siqing, director of the industrialization office at the breeding research center, which is based in the national reserve, said: "Many zoos around the world are waiting for alligators bred at the center. Though the export of wild Chinese alligators is absolutely prohibited, exports of human-bred ones have been allowed since the 1980s."
Sun's department is responsible for large-scale breeding programs, the administration of tourism at the center, and exports, which are considered vital to helping the outside world learn more about the species.
In 1973, the International Union for Conservation of Nature added Chinese alligators to its Red List of Threatened Species. The animal's status as "critically endangered" means it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
As the most comprehensive inventory of conservation status, the list provides scientific information about species and subspecies at a global level. It is also aimed at drawing attention to the magnitude and importance of threatened biodiversity, influencing national and international policies and decision-making, and providing information to guide actions to conserve biological diversity, according to the organization's website.