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OKC Zoo welcomes critically endangered Chinese Alligator hatchlings

By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden has announced the arrival of three six-month-old Chinese alligator siblings. The babies hatched in September 2020 at Sedgewick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas.

This addition marks the first time the OKC Zoo’s animal family has included Chinese alligators in its history.

The hatchlings, who are part of Zoo’s Species Survival Plan, are now on public view at the Zoo’s Underground habitat in the Children’s Zoo, next to the Zoo’s alligator snapping turtle hatchlings. 

The Zoo is now home to both of the world’s only two alligator species – Chinese alligators and American alligators.

With only 120 individual Chinese alligators left in the wild, the Zoo joins its Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) partners to preserve the species as part of the Chinese Alligator Species Survival Plan® (SSP) and reintroduction program.

The Chinese alligator, unlike the abundant American alligator, is critically endangered with fewer than 120 of the species left in the wild. AZA’s SSP and reintroduction programs were created to increase wild populations, while ensuring genetic diversity.

“We’re proud to commit to this collaborative conservation effort and do our part to help revitalize the declining population of Chinese alligators in their native habitat,” said the Zoo’s Assistant Curator of Herpetology, Seamus Ehrhard.   

“By participating in this SSP program, we have the opportunity to make a powerful impact on Chinese alligator conservation, while raising public awareness for this lesser-known crocodilian species,” Ehrhard added.

In 2003, the first Chinese alligators bred in human care were successfully reintroduced into the wild – a promising testament to the critical role AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have in conserving wildlife.

Listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Chinese alligators are threatened by habitat loss. The species is confined to a small area of the Yangtze River basin in Eastern China. 

Currently, the Zoo will act as a housing facility for the Chinese alligator hatchlings with a goal of participating in the Chinese alligator breeding program in the future. The young alligator ambassadors will live at the Zoo for a few years before being paired with a mate at another AZA organization.

Chinese alligators are relatively small compared to American alligators – reaching an average length of five feet. The species can also be distinguished by its upturned snout and robust head.

Calm and reserved by nature, Chinese alligators are known as highly intelligent and inquisitive creatures. The local name for the species is Yow-Lung or T’o, meaning “dragon.

The Oklahoma City Zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Advance tickets are required for all guests and ZOOfriends members and can be purchased at okczoo.org/tickets.

Zoo tickets are limited each day to ensure safe social distancing among guests. Regular admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free.

Memberships can be purchased at ZOOfriends.org or any place admission is sold in the Zoo’s Entry Plaza during regular business hours.

To learn more about this event and Zoo other happenings, call 405-424-3344 or visit okczoo.org.

The Chinese alligator is critically endangered with fewer than 120 of the species left in the wild. Photo by Rae Karpinski
The three new Chinese Alligator hatchlings are part of the OKC Zoo’s Species Survival Plan. Photo by Rae Karpinski