Researchers at Dongtan Wetland Park (Dōngtān Shīdì Gōngyuán, 东滩湿地公园) on Chongming Island off the coast of Shanghai are looking for a few good volunteers for assistance in researching Chinese alligators (yángzǐ'è, 扬子鳄) living in the park next Saturday, 15 September.
The critically endangered species is just one of the two alligator species in the world and the "most critically endangered of the world’s 23 crocodilian species, with only 130 to 150 individuals remaining in the wild," according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
In 2007, six Chinese alligators were released into the wetland park and, in 2008, 15 baby alligators were confirmed to have hatched. A search for the shy alligators turned up five last month and additional searches will be happening on 7 and 15 September before the weather gets too cold (there's a possibility that they may conduct another search on 22 September). In contrast, someone working on the project told me you would be incredibly lucky to spot the mostly nocturnal alligators during a normal visit to the park.
Find out how to help and more....
The Chinese alligator can grow to be nearly 2 m in length (6 ft) and resemble their American cousin, except for their smaller size and more heavily-armored body. Primarily active at night, the alligators feed on fish, mollusks and the occasional bird or rat roughly between April and October. When the weather gets colder, usually in late October, Chinese alligators hibernate in burrows.*
While they were once widespread and could be found inhabiting bodies of water all around the lower Yangtze River, their population has been drastically reduced through loss of habitat because of development and pollution, extermination as a pest and ending up as a menu item (their meat is believed to have a number of health benefits).
How can you help?
The park is looking for volunteers to help on 15 September at the wetland park from 1pm to 9pm in the search for the alligators. To volunteer, send a resume and contact info to chengyx(at)siicdt(dot)com. The resume is basic and should include name, age and job as well as any relevant skills in photography, boating or previous experience with animals. You can also contact them by phone at ( 3936 7023)—don't worry, they do speak English on the other end if your Chinese is less than 好.
Volunteers will be picked up at Chenjia Town (Chénjiā Zhèn, 陈家镇) on Chongming Island at 1pm and taken to the park for training and to search for gators. Training includes park history, alligator research, boat training and night photography training.
If you can't make the 15th, they may have another search on the 22nd.
Getting to Chongming and more about the park
From Metro Line 2 Shanghai Science and Technology Museum Station, you can grab the Shanghai-Chongming Line 2 Bus (Shēn-Chóng èrxiàn, 申崇二线) outside of Exit 6. This will take you to Chenjia Town on the eastern part of the island.
The Dongtan Wetland Park has a museum near the entrance with exhibits on the area's birds as well as a small earthquake museum and a research area that remains active throughout the year, although it's generally not open to the public. Check out other news about the park at their official site (Chinese). For normal visitors, park tickets are RMB 50 for adults, RMB 30 for children on weekdays and RMB 80 for adults, RMB 40 for children on weekends and national holidays.
* If you happen to speak to any of the alligators, ask them about burrow cost and comfort. My apartment gets pretty chilly come winter. Back to the article.