Cotswold Wildlife Park has become the first zoological collection in the UK to breed the rare Chinese Crocodile Lizard.
The sex of the newborn is currently unknown, and the baby Lizard is currently off-show in the specialist Reptile rearing room. However, visitors to Cotswold can see the adults in their enclosure in the Reptile House. In the future, the newest Lizard will go on to be part of a breeding programme for this rare species.
The Chinese Crocodile Lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus) is semiaquatic and found only in the cool forests of the Hunan, Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces of southern China, and the Quảng Ninh Province in northern Vietnam. Very little is known about this rare species. It was first collected in 1928, and it remains the most recently named Lizard genus.
The species is viviparous, meaning it gives birth to live young. It has a gestation period of approximately nine months and litters consist of between 1-12 young.
In the wild, it frequently spends hours, motionless, perched on rocks or branches above slow-moving streams and ponds.
Due to habit destruction, illegal poaching, capture for the pet trade, and local consumption, population numbers of this Lizard are under serious threat. Unfortunately, this species is still widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. The Lizard’s ability to remain immobile for hours, occasionally days, led to the belief that it could cure insomnia. In China they are also known as “the sleeping serpent”.
In a recent study, this species was described as “the living fossil now on the brink of extinction”. Between 1978 and 2008, this species is thought to have declined by an estimated 84%.
According to Scientific American, this species is nearly extinct in Vietnam and China. Based on extensive field research, China had approximately 850 Chinese Crocodile Lizards left in the wild in 2015 (compared to an estimated 5,000 in 1991). Vietnam’s population is believed to have plummeted to fewer than 100.
Researchers have recommended the animals be placed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES), which would ban all further international trade. They are currently listed on CITIES Appendix II (where species may become extinct unless trade is closely controlled).
The Chinese Crocodile Lizard is currently classified as “Endangered” by the IUCN.