This species of alligator is actually the most endangered species of alligator in the entire world, with just roughly 120 of these beautiful creatures remaining in the wild. Though they’re extremely similar in appearance to the more common American alligator, there are a few subtle differences that make them stand out, and not just the name either. They’re not the largest of gators, averaging just 5 feet in length and weighing roughly 80 pounds. In some rare cases, males have been recorded growing as large as 7 feet in length, and weighing just over 100 pounds, but those were very rare incidents. Centuries ago, they were believed to have reached over 10 feet in length, but there is no real evidence to back up these claims. One feature that really makes Chinese gators stand out, especially against American gators, is the fact that they are completed coated in thick armour, which is very rare in Crocodillan species. They stay largely dormant during the colder winter months, hibernating in specially created burrows, waiting for slightly warmer weather where they will then increase their core body temperatures by basking in sunshine. Once they reach optimal body temperature, they then become nocturnal, hunting at night. Their diets consist of slow swimming fish, snails, frogs, and other small amphibians found commonly in the water.
These gators reside in subtropical regions of China, in low elevations close by to freshwater sources such as large streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. Once upon a time they thrived in most regions of China, but around the 1950’s or so, it was only recorded as residing in the mountainous regions in south anhui and southern regions of the changjiang river, and the Zheijang provinces. By the late 90’s, these gator’s geographic positioning within China had been reduced by close to 100% and as a result, populations plummeted instead of simply just steadily declining.
Some of the more prominent threats to these gators, and causes for their declining population included the fact that their natural habitats were often destroyed, being built over or turned into rice paddies for growing rice and farming. Gators were also often killed by humans, for fear of their own safety, for fun, or because they simply viewed them as pests. Many agricultural areas also had water rat issues and used to put poison down, which the rats would then eat. Unfortunately, the alligators would then eat the rats, and they too would die or become seriously ill because of the poison. There is believed to be over 10,000 of these gators in captivity, and there is talk of creating re-introduction programs to help increase numbers out in the wild in specially designated conservation areas.