BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese experts have warned that inbreeding could harm efforts to save the country’s endangered Yangtze alligator, already decimated by environmental pollution in its native habitat, state media reported on Tuesday.
Worsening ecological conditions in the lower reaches of the Yangtze river caused numbers to dwindle sharply in recent years, and a 2005 survey had found fewer than 150 in the wild, the China Daily said.
But a population explosion at an artificial breeding centre charged with releasing robust alligators into the wild has prompted fears of their “genetic degradation,” the paper said, citing officials.
“Offspring produced by genetically similar parents are often weak and have a hard time surviving,” said Wang Chaolin, a senior engineer at the Chinese Alligator Propagation Research Center at Xuancheng, in China’s eastern Anhui province.
The center’s population had soared to 10,000 alligators, with 450 crowded into its main pool, despite it being designed to hold only 14, the paper said.
“The trouble is that some 1,000 alligators are born at the centre each year, raising fears of inbreeding,” the paper said.
Development and over-fishing along the Yangtze, China’s longest river, have almost certainly claimed another of the country’s endangered species, the freshwater “baiji” dolphin, foreign experts have said.
The baiji was pronounced “functionally extinct” after a joint Chinese and international team failed to find any during a six-week search along the river.