Hunting rare alligators in the darkness

Updated: 2013-09-01 08:13

By Wu Ni in Shanghai(China Daily)

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Shanghai's Dongtan Wetland Park is recruiting volunteers to row around a lake at night in search of one of the world's most endangered animals - Yangtze alligators.

The annual event was staged twice in August, and will run again on Sept 7 and 14.

"It's amazing," engineer Wei Changqing says. The 37-year-old from Shanghai hit the lake on Aug 9.

Four boats with four passengers apiece set off through the reedy marsh at 8 pm to locate and photograph the alligators introduced to the park in 2007.

Everyone had a job. Wei and a partner paddled, another passenger held the flashlight and the fourth snapped photos.

Hunting rare alligators in the darkness

"The alligators leave only their eyes above the water to observe their surroundings, and their red eyes glowed in the flashlight beams," Wei recalls.

"When we found a pair of eyes, we silently moved in."

The animals' size can be determined by the distance between their eyes. They can grow up to 2 meters long.

Wei's team found three adults and three juveniles.

"Adults are very alert and slipped away before we could get close, no matter how quiet we were," he says.

He was thrilled to see a young alligator stretch its head out of the water.

"It wasn't scared, perhaps because it's too young," he says.

"So we got a lot of photos."

Team leader Cheng Yixin says the creatures dig burrows, build nests and lay eggs on an island in the middle of a 6-hectare lake.

Cheng insists the trips are safe.

"We don't get off the boat," she says.

"And Yangtze alligators don't attack humans."

The creatures hibernate from October until April.

The species is broadly scattered around the Yangtze River's middle and lower reaches. Expanding farmlands have confined their wild population - determined to be fewer than 120 in 2003 - to a few ponds and lakes.

Captive-bred Yangtze alligators are being released into the wild in such places as Dongtan, where most of the six alligators - three from the United States and three from Zhejiang province - released have survived and bred.

More than 100 visitors have joined the annual alligator-spotting trip. Sept 7 will be the first time minors can join.

"It's a good opportunity to observe rare species in the wild," Cheng says.

"We hope participants will do more for the environment."

Hunting rare alligators in the darkness

(China Daily 09/01/2013 page15)