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Endangered Alligators on the Comeback Trail

Chinese alligators, once on the brink of extinction, are making a comeback, according to experts with the State Forestry Administration.

A program to boost the alligators'' dwindling numbers was launched by the SFA in 2003 and it has proved a resounding success.

The SFA has reported that three Chinese alligators, two females and one male, which were released into the wild four years ago in Anhui Province, have successfully adapted to their new home. During the period, 105 eggs were hatched.

Experts called this a milestone accomplishment.

The Chinese alligator, also known as the Yangtze alligator, lived in large numbers more than 230 million years ago, particularly on the eastern seaboard. An adult could grow to two meters long.

The reptile, a "living fossil," is considered as rare as the giant panda.

"Yangtze alligators were reasonably common until the 1980s but as local people turned forests into farmlands, the animals disappeared," said 78-year-old Hu Dahua, a resident of Gaojingmiao, site of the State Forest Farm in Anhui that is also a nature reserve for the alligators.

Since 2003, scientists have released 15 captive-bred Chinese alligators on three separate occasions.

In June, six were released in Anhui.

"Scientists will monitor the six alligators through wireless-tracking devices for 18 months," said Wang Chaolin, vice director of the Chinese Alligators'' Breeding Research Center.

A 2005 survey found that about 120 Chinese alligators were living in the wild, mostly in the Anhui nature reserve.

Over the past two years, about 100 alligators are believed to have been born in the wild, said sources at the center.

Wang said the center is keen to see a population of at least 500 wild Chinese alligators, a number that will mark true success in restoring the species.

The Chinese government has put the reptile at the top of its protection list. In 1979, it set up the research center in Anhui. Since then, the number of alligators at the center has risen from about 200 to more than 10,000.

The center said it could hatch about 1,500 reptiles annually.

The Chinese alligator is now safe from extinction, according to Wang, but it is still listed as one of the world''s most endangered creatures.

Farming wild animals like bears, crocodiles and tigers has been a means of saving endangered species in China.

The nation has so far built more than 250 farms to save and breed endangered animals such as the giant panda, the red ibis and Yangtze alligators.

(Xinhua News Agency & Shanghai Daily November 3, 2007)

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