You probably didn’t know that when you visit the Chattanooga Zoo and admire the Chinese alligators, housed in the Forests of the World Exhibit, you’re looking at two of a very small number of the critters. Although there are many of them in captivity around the country, officials estimate only about 150 of them remain in the wild.
Finn and Rey are the two Chinese alligators who live here in Chattanooga, and they are part of the zoo’s participation in the species survival plan (a huge part of the zoo’s Association of Zoos and Aquariums certification). A species survival plan includes pairing endangered animals together to breed in the hopes of producing strong offspring.
“After careful study of their genetic history, the SSP recommended Finn and Rey as a breeding pair that we hope will soon further populate the Chinese alligator species,” Stacy Laberdee, zoo general curator, said.
Chinese alligators are one of the smallest crocodilians, and also one of the most endangered. They have hard scales on their backs and soft scales on their sides and bellies. They are considered a “highly secretive” species and spend lots of time in underground burrows. Habitat loss is the main reason for their small numbers in the wild today. Farmers in China often kill them, as they’re a threat to small livestock, but the Chinese government has taken steps to combat this in recent years.
Finn and Rey are both in their 30s: Rey was born in 1986 and Finn was born in 1987. Both have lived at the local zoo since 2010. Finn weighs 25 pounds and Rey is 22 pounds. The two are a bonded pair and love to eat crocodilian pellets.
For those who care for the creatures in captivity, the purpose is to help repopulate what was once a plentiful species, and any new additions to the critically endangered species is worth celebrating. The most recent of such celebrations happened in October, when Chinese alligator eggs hatched in Shanghai and the babies were spotted swimming in a freshwater wetland park.
Another fairly recent Chinese alligator success story occurred when three captive-bred Chinese alligators were released into the wild from the Bronx Zoo in New York, and three more were also recently released from the Changxing Chinese Alligator Nature Reserve in China.
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Hannah Hammon is the director of marketing and communications at the Chattanooga Zoo.
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