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UPDATED: April 20, 2012
Rare Alligator Population Expands in China

The number of critically endangered Chinese alligators living in the wild has been growing over the past few years, thanks to human efforts to aid in the animals' survival.

The Chinese alligator is widely known as the Yangtze River alligator because the animal lives along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. East China's Anhui Province, where a nature reserve was set up over 30 years ago to protect the extremely rare species, is home to the majority of the country's Chinese alligators.

The number of wild Chinese alligators is currently estimated to exceed 150, excluding about 50 captive-bred animals that have been reintroduced to the wild in recent years, Wang Chaolin, deputy director of the Anhui Yangtze Alligator Nature Reserve, said Wednesday, citing a recent census.

Wang said the number stood at about 96 to 108 in 2005.

Though the population has been growing, the Chinese alligator remains threatened by extinction, as the population is far below the widely recognized 500-line separating "endangered" species and "critically endangered" ones, he said.

The Chinese alligator was originally scattered throughout eastern China. However, its wild habitat has been reduced significantly by human activities, especially as land has been converted to suit agricultural needs.

To restore the 230-million-year-old species' habitat, China has been converting farmland to forests over the past few years, a move believed to have helped increase the alligator's population.

Meanwhile, human intervention can raise the freshwater alligator's survival rate in the wild to 20 percent from the meager 2 percent, Wang said.

China has put the Chinese alligator as a priority on its protection list. In 1979, the Chinese Alligator Breeding Research Center was set up in Anhui. Since then, the number of captive alligators at the center has risen from about 200 to more than 10,000.

(Xinhua News Agency April 19, 2012)

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