Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida reptile specialist will display a rare Chinese alligator at a Daytona Beach exposition Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 18-19.
Perran Ross, who heads UF’s Crocodile Specialist Group, said the small Chinese alligator is virtually extinct in the wild. About 130 of the reptiles are living in small ponds near farms and villages in China, he said.
“In the region designated by China as an alligator reserve, the alligators are forced to coexist with intensive agriculture and villages,” said Ross, who is spearheading an effort to raise funds for the endangered creature’s protection. “The area where the alligators live is only 40 hectares — about the size of two football fields.”
Franklin Percival, an alligator specialist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said conditions in China will not allow the species to survive without additional conservation action.
“Generally, small populations restricted to undersized habitats are vulnerable to a host of potentially decimatin factors such as genetic or disease problems,” said Percival, an associate professor of wildlife conservation and ecology. “This may be the first crocodilian species to become extinct in the course of human history unless urgent action is taken.”
Crocodilians include crocodiles as well as Chinese and American alligators, the only two species of alligators, Percival said.
When China opened up to the west in the late 1980s, researchers became aware of the severe plight of the Chinese alligator. To help China with its conservation efforts, Ross established the Chinese Alligator Fund.
Ross said the fund quickly grew to about $10,000, mostly in small contributions from schools and volunteer groups affiliated with zoos. The fund is supporting a workshop in China at the end of August, he said.
In addition to displaying the rare ‘gator, Ross said the fund will auction off about $5,000 in donated items to support conservation efforts.
While China is currently reaping most of the benefits of U.S. expertise in alligator conservation, UF researchers said both countries will eventually benefit from the association.
“The Chinese have made advancements in alligator breeding techniques and there is certainly potential for useful technical exchange in this area,” Ross said. “The two countries also should be able to share research on the co- existence of people and alligators and the development of sustainable systems to preserve alligator habitats.”
The National Reptile Breeders Expo will be held at the Ocean Convention Center in Daytona Beach.
On the Web: Chinese Alligator Fund: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/alligatorfund/ Crocodile Specialist Group: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/crocs.htm