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THE CURRENT STATUS AND CONSERVATION OF CHINESE ALLIGATOR


The proceeding of 16th meeting of Crocodile Specialist Group

THE CURRENT STATUS AND CONSERVATION OF CHINESE ALLIGATOR
Ruan Xiangdong1 Jiang Hongxing2 Zhou Xiaochun3 Wu Xiaobin

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(1Department of Wildlife Conservation of State Forestry Administration, P.R. China; 2National Research and Development Center of Wild Fauna and Flora, State Forestry Administration; 3Wildlife Protection Station of Department of Anhui Province; 4College of Life Sciences, Anhui Normal University)

Abstract: Chinese alligator is an endemic species in China and has been listed as category one species under the key state protected wildlife. It is also considered as the most endangered species of 23 crocodiles in the world by IUCN. Since 1980s, the Chinese Government has launched a serial conservation measures and scientific researches. So far, the captive population has reached over 10,000 individuals with annual increasing rate of 2,000 individuals. However, with land exploitation change, illegal hunting, environmental pollution and natural disasters, the wild population is challenging the threats of extinction. The recent survey shows that the current wild population is less than 200 individuals and decreasing at the annual rate of 4-6%. To save China ancestor dragon, with supports of international organizations and interested individuals, State Forestry Administration of China commenced on some conservation projects including habitat restoration, ranching, captive breeding and reintroduction. This paper presents the detailed progresses of China for saving Chinese Alligator within recent two years and the active actions behind two international workshops in Heifei and Guangzhou, 2001.

1 CURRENT POPULATION STATUS 1.1 Wild Population Decreasing According to historical records, until the middle of 20th century, Chinese alligators could be found along the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze and Shaoxing river basins. The evidence shows this species was abundant and widely distributed from Shanghai on the lower reach of Yangtze River up to Jiangling County of Hubei Province. 300-500 (Chen, B. H, et al, 1981) individuals were recorded in the early of 1980s. With land reclamation, illegal poaching, environmental pollution and natural disasters, the wild population is decreasing rapidly. So far, the wild population is only restricted to small, narrow and isolated plots which belong to Jinxian county, Guangde county, Nanglin county, Xuanzhou district, Ningguo city, Maanshan city and Dangtu county of the southern Anhui Province, as well as Changxing county of Zhejiang Province. It was also reported that the species was found in Yixing County of Jiangshu Provinces (no record in the recent survey). Thorbjarnarson (2000) reported that the wild population is less than 200 individuals with annual decreasing rate of 4-6%. The largest population size in one site only consists of 10-11 individuals (total 4 sites) and usually only one of them is female. Most colonies consist of 2-5 individuals.

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Gainesville, Florida, USA. October 6th to 10th , 2002.

The proceeding of 16th meeting of Crocodile Specialist Group

1.2 Captive population increasing With the success of the captive breeding techniques in 1982, the captive population reached over 10,000 individuals till the end of 2001. Among them, about 10,000 individuals in Anhui Breeding and Research Center for Chinese Alligator (ABRCCA) and 366 individuals in Yingjiabian Nature Reserve of Zhejiang Province. The annual increasing rate of ABRCCR is about 1500-2000 individuals. So far, the second filial generation of captive bred Chinese alligator of ABRCCR can be successfully bred. In addition, there are more than 100 Chinese alligators in zoos around China.

2 CURRENT CONSERVATION STATUS 2.1 Legal supports In 1972, the Chinese Alligator was listed as the state protected species. In 1988, Wildlife Protection Law of People’s Republic of China was issued and brought into implementation. Meanwhile, the State Council also formulated the list of category one and two species under the key state protected wildlife. The Chinese Alligator was listed as category one species. After then, related regulations and rules were also issued at national, provincial and local levels.

2.2 Establishment of Nature Reserves Anhui Chinese Alligator Nature Reserve covering a total area of 43,300 hm2 was established by provincial government in 1982 and promoted as national nature reserve by State Council in 1986. The reserve includes 13 protection and management stations covering 41 hm2 distributed in five counties, which is co-managed by Anhui Breeding and Research Center for Chinese Alligator.

The resident of Changxing County of Zhejiang Province spontaneously fenced the habitat for the remained wild Chinese alligators. In 1988, Department of Forestry of Zhejiang Province confirmed it as a provincial nature reserve, which covers 120 hm2 with core area of 3 hm2.

2.3 Establishment of captive breeding centers To prevent the Chinese Alligator from field extinction, Department of Forestry of Anhui Province established Anhui Breeding and Research Center for Chinese Alligator in 1979. The Center collected 212 wild individuals from random distribution sites for captive breeding. With continued efforts of experts from Anhui Normal University and the staff of ABRCCR, a set of captive breeding technique was developed in 1982. Meanwhile, 147 hatchlings were successfully hatched out in this year. The second filial generation was successfully born in 1987. From that time, the number of the captive-bred alligators has being increased continuously. At present, the rate of hatching, surviving and preserving are 90.5%, 97.9% and 85% respectively. The research has reached international level and awarded the Second Class Prize for Science and Technology Development by State Forestry Administration (SFA) (former Ministry of Forestry) of China.

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Gainesville, Florida, USA. October 6th to 10th , 2002.

The proceeding of 16th meeting of Crocodile Specialist Group

Zhejiang Changxing Breeding Center for Chinese Alligator was founded in 1979. The first filial generation was hatched out in 1984 and the second filial generation was born successfully in 1997. 2.4 Public Education Since the end of 1970s, the Chinese government has commenced on public education on wildlife conservation, especially to students. With the formulation of Wildlife Protection Law, governmental departments at national, provincial and local level initiated Wildlife Conservation Month all over the country. To improve the conservation awareness and good understanding of the Chinese Alligator, the local departments have conducted serial activities such as poster setting, legal popularization, media exposure, workshop, materials distribution, eco-tourism and so on. 2.5 Scientific Researches Some scientific researches on the Chinese Alligator have been launched since the end of 1970s. So far, the main research fields include population counting, distribution, burrow selection, home range, captive breeding, physiology, morphology and conservation genetics etc. The results provide scientific basis for the upcoming projects of Chinese Alligator protection. 2.6 Commerce Management In 1992, the 8th meeting of Parties of CITES approved the commercial utilization of the individuals of second filial generation of captive bred Chinese Alligator. SFA of China has strictly taken measures to efficiently manage its commercial activities including strict control of the number of individuals for commercial purposes, strict limitation of the number of units of utilization and trade, and fund raising from the commercial activities by the utilization to the conservation and captive breeding of Chinese Alligator.

2.7 International Cooperation International cooperation played an effective role in development of Chinese Alligator protection. The Chinese Government always keeps a positive attitude to the international cooperation concerning Chinese Alligator protection. By the end of 1970s, the experts of China and U.S.A. jointly conducted a cooperative survey on Chinese alligators, which preliminarily recognized the population size and distribution of the Chinese Alligator. Since the end of last century, with the supports of WCS, we have conducted some researches on biological conservation. In 2001, with the supports of some international organizations including CSG, WCS, WWF and Australia-China Council, SFA sponsored two international workshops in Anhui and Guangzhou concerning re-introduction of Chinese alligators and commerce management in crocodiles. 3 Main Achievements within Recent Two Years Since the approval and release of ‘China Action Plan for Conservation and Reintroduction of

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Gainesville, Florida, USA. October 6th to 10th , 2002.

The proceeding of 16th meeting of Crocodile Specialist Group

Chinese Alligator’ and ‘Guangzhou Advocation on Coordination Between Crocodile Protection and Industry Development’, which were separately developed in Hefei and Guangzhou International workshops in 2001, SFA has strictly implemented the proposed activities step by step and made a great of progress on saving Chinese Alligator project. The specific activities were completed as followings. 3.1 Developing two conservation planning documents With scientific and technical supports from some relevant institutes/universities/colleges, two plan documents including Construction Plan of Saving Chinese Alligator and Construction Plan of Chinese Alligator Breeding Base have been developed at the end of 2001, which are guideline document for saving Chinese Alligator project. With rationale of efficiency, innovation and cost, the Chinese government is planning to launch related activities in Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces step by step. 3.2 Habitat restoration project So far, we have negotiated with the local governments on the land-use within 6 proposed re-introduction sites of Anhui Province and got approved. One of the proposed sites, Gaojingmiao Forestry Farm (a state-owned forestry farm) is in the process of habitat restoration. The captive alligators will be re-introduced according to the original plan. 3.3 Re-introduction project In the ABRCCA, some wildness ponds have been established and some re-introduced alligators will be released for semi-wildness before the implementation of the full project. So far, a total of 1.8 million US$ has been invested to improve the infrastructures and instruments of ABRCCA, most of investment come from the central governmental finance. Another reintroduction site in Zhejiang Province is Taohuagou at Changxing County, covering 467 hm2, which is also a state-owned forestry farm. The local forestry department with the support of the central government initiated the re-introduction project at this place. A total of 1.45 million US$ has been invested to establish a captive breeding base. 3.4 Habitat evaluation project At the beginning of this year, with the financial support of SFA, Habitat Quantization Evaluation of Chinese Alligator is undertaken by National Research and Development Center of Wild Fauna and Flora, and cooperated by Anhui Normal University. The project aims to recognize the wild population size and distribution, surveys and evaluates wild habitat, probes habitat selection pattern, determines suitable habitat standard, and put forward protection and management strategy. The final results will provide reasonable basis for the reintroduction site selection and habitat management. 3.5 The proceeding of two international workshops The proceeding of the International Workshop on Conservation and Re-introduction of Chinese Alligator, Heifei, China, 2001 & International Workshop on Captive Breeding and Commerce Management in Crocodylia, Guangdong, China, 2001 was published by China Forestry Publishing

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Gainesville, Florida, USA. October 6th to 10th , 2002.

The proceeding of 16th meeting of Crocodile Specialist Group

House in September of 2002, which named Status Quo and Future of Conservation for Chinese Alligator and Crocodiles in the world. 3.6 Establishment of volunteer group for technical supports and consultants In response to the advocation of two international workshops, SFA has appointed Mr. Jiang Hongxing as contactor of this volunteer group and national coordinator, whose correspondence address is: National Research and Development Center of Wild Fauna and Flora, P.O Box 1928, PC: 100091, Beijing, P.R. of CHINA. For further information, please browse the website: www.wildlife-plant.gov.cn 4 NEXT URGENT ACTION PLAN To efficiently promote implementation of saving Chinese Alligator project and rehabilitate its wild population, some pilot actions have been identified and will be put into practice step by step by State Forestry Administration of China consulted with experts at home and abroad.

4.1 Seek related technical supports for saving Chinese Alligator project Effective technical supports are the foundation for the success of project implementation. Considering the current situation, key techniques include monitoring technique for the current wild population, ranching population, wildness population; wildness technique, especially on raising foraging capacity of captive alligators; conservation and management technique; and commercial utilization and management technique for the captive Chinese Alligator and other introduced crocodiles.

4.2 Launch pilot scientific researches The results of scientific researches provide reasonable basis for conservation and management business. It is imperative to initiate habitat evaluation and conservation genetics projects to guide identification of suitable reintroduction sites and released population structure. Meanwhile, monitoring for the current wild population and released alligators including behavior, viability, habitat selection and activity range, also should be done to review the project progress.

4.3 Conduct training and field tour With regards to the related techniques, SFA prepare to dispatch one or two delegation to visit some overseas famous farms, ranching farms, nature reserves and colleges/institutes to learn advanced techniques and experience in 2003. Meanwhile, domestic training should also be enhanced.

4.4 Enhance capability building for the breeding bases and nature reserves To address the needs of re-introduction project and saving enough genetic resources, some related departments have been developed construction plan and approved by the authority. The current infrastructures and instruments will be further improved by the implementation of the project.

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Gainesville, Florida, USA. October 6th to 10th , 2002.

The proceeding of 16th meeting of Crocodile Specialist Group

4.5 Develop community co-management model Saving Chinese Alligator project needs concert efforts and contributions from local communities, international society and Chinese governmental departments. How to coordinate and mitigate human-alligator conflicts is a key factor to the success of the project. A reasonable community participatory model will be established with consultation of some experts and stakeholders, as well as public awareness increasing. 4.6 Widen the channels of international cooperation International cooperation promotes international society recognize China protection business, and China catch up with international progress as well. The Chinese government will continue to enhance international cooperation. The main activities include: to strength information exchange with relevant international organization; to cooperate to run staff training courses; to promote favorable cooperation mechanisms and implement multi-formal cooperation; and to introduce advanced scientific and technical measures, and management experiences.

Epilogue: We appreciate all of your continuous supports of finance and technique, and concerns on the Chinese Alligator. We believe, with the close attention and cooperation from related international organizations and colleague, the Chinese Alligator will get rid of the edge of extinction beyond all doubt, and the crocodiles in the world will have a prospective future, and China will contribute greatly to the wildlife conservation and sustainable utilization.

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Gainesville, Florida, USA. October 6th to 10th , 2002.


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