These rare and precious alligators are native to Eastern China in the lower section of the Yangtze River. It is the only species of the alligator family that lives outside of the Americas and it is different from its American cousin in a few distinct ways. Much smaller than the American Alligator, the Chinese Alligator will only grow to about five feet long and has a more robust head. They also have unique bony plates on their bellies, called osteoderms, that the American alligators do not have.
Bonnie and Clyde joined our reptile house family in October 2020 when they were only one year old. Like many other reptiles, our Chinese Alligators only eat a couple times a week and are currently being fed crickets and small mice to help them grow into big and strong adults. The two are acclimating well to their new home and enjoying life in the Herpetarium.
There are only 150 Chinese Alligators left in the wild. Due to the rapid decline of this species, it is listed as critically endangered. In attempts to revive the species from their critically endangered status, these animals are a part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). According to Dan Dembiec, one of our animal curators here at the Memphis Zoo, SSPs are formally managed populations. By formally managing a population, we can maximize the health and genetic diversity of each species’ population that can serve as both a reservoir for zoos to ethically obtain animals to support their conservation programs and potentially a healthy back-up population for declining species in the wild. When the pair become of breeding age, they will begin to contribute to the species management plan. Bonnie and Clyde will be very important in continuing the population of this alligator in hopes of bringing their species out of endangerment one day. The main job of the pair here at the zoo will be to raise awareness for their species and educate the public on the importance of conservation.
Come say hello to Bonnie and Clyde in the Herpetarium the next time you visit the Memphis Zoo!