Chinese Alligator

Alligator sinesis

Order: Crocodilia

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Diet Requirements

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling


Potential Messaging

Acquisition Information


Comments from the Rating System

  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Medium temperaments; slow growth rate allows for long term use. Great educational content.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Currently restricted to the lower Yangtze River basin, located along the central Pacific coast of China in the southern part of the Anhui province and in some parts of neighboring provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu. Historically, their range extended throughout China and possibly into Korea.
Prefer to live in wetlands, including swamps, ponds, lakes, and freshwater streams. The climate is both subtropical and temperate.

Physical Description

A relatively small crocodilian with 5 webbed toes on each foot, 6 rows of osteoderms running along the back, and a tail that comprises about half of the body length. Scales on the belly are much smoother than those on the back. Like American alligators, the snout is fairly broad and well-rounded.

Life Cycle

Breeding typically occurs in June, and nesting in mid-July. Males are polygynous, and rarely participate in breeding post-copulation. Copulation is preceded by communicative bellows and roars, and both sexes employ a musk gland found on the lower jaw to attract mates. After copulation, the female will typically build a mound of vegetation with a depression on the top, lay 10-40 eggs in the depression, then cover them with more vegetation. The decomposing mound produces heat which can help keep the eggs warm. Females will stay near the nest as a guard, and may help young hatch by breaking egg shells with their tongue and mouth. Young usually stay with their mother during the first winter, but their relationship behavior after this point is unknown. Maturation is reached at 5-7 years of age.


Mainly nocturnal predators, employing a “sit and wait” tactic to catch fish, snails, clams, and occasionally small mammals or waterfowl. They can wait for long amounts of time underwater with only the eyes and nose above the surface. They brumate during the winter and emerge from their burrows in April, after which they will spend most of their time basking in the sun until their temperature has gone back to normal, at which point they will resume their nocturnal habits. They are rarely social outside of the mating season.

Threats and Conservation Status

Listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, by CITES under Appendix I, and by the Chinese government as a “first-class rare animal.” The chief threat is habitat loss, mainly as habitat is converted for agricultural use or altered due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Fortunately, the small region in which they are still found is somewhat isolated– the basin floods every year, preventing its use as farm land or permanent human residency. Hunting for traditional medicine or food is also a threat, as is pollution. Unlike other
crocodilian species, they are rarely hunted for the skin, as it is covered in osteoderms and considered inadequate. There are thought to be less than 150 wild individuals currently alive.
The Chinese government is actively attempting to conserve this animal. Whenever an alligator is observed, the government will establish a conservation station, and a local farmer is paid by the National Forestry Department to be responsible for the station. Additionally, in 2003, the first captive-bred individuals were released into their native range, and by 2008, 15 wild alligators had been born to the original released animals.

Did you know…

  • Alligator vs. crocodile: The easiest way to tell an alligator from a crocodile is by looking at the snout from above. Alligators have a rounded, U- shaped snout, while crocodiles have a more defined, V- shaped snout. Additionally, crocodiles have a notch on their upper jaws that clearly shows the 4th tooth on their lower jaw, while most of the teeth on the lower jaw are not visible on alligators.
    • There are several other differences that are not as obvious. Crocodiles have glands to process saltwater, while alligators do not. Alligators have a bony septum dividing their nose, while alligators do not. Crocodiles also have dermal pressure receptors covering most of their body, while alligators only have them near their lower jaw.
    • Caiman, which fall under the alligator family, have the same U-shaped snout as true alligators, but lack a bony septum (nasal divider). The scales on their belly are also much harder than those of either alligator species, and are made of bony scutes that are joined by a suture. Finally, caiman exclusively occupy Central and South America.
  • Unique animal: The Chinese alligator and American alligator are the only species of alligators in the world. There are 21 other species of crocodilian in the world, and all live in tropical or sub-tropical areas.
    • The Chinese alligator is much smaller than the American alligator, but has a more robust head. They are also much more docile that most other crocodilian species, and wild animals pose little to no threat to humans.


Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.



Contributors and Citations

  • The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore