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Breeders have been so successful in saving the once-endangered Chinese alligator from extinction that they are now considering birth control to keep the numbers from soaring, the official Xinhua news service said this week.

The number of artificially bred alligators increased to 4,000 in 1993 from only 500 in the late 1970s, primarily in east China's Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.Zoologists say the species appeared on earth 230 million years ago.

The Chinese alligator used to thrive in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, but its habitat has shrunk drastically due to human enroachment.

The United Nations listed the Chinese alligator as among the world's endangered species in 1973.

The government put the alligator under state protection and set up a breeding research center in Anhui province.

Xie Wanshu, the center's general engineeer, said technicians succeeded in breeding offspring from wild alligators in 1982 and from 1986 on the center has had a survival rate of 90 percent.

The center has 10 breeding ponds, and Xie said China has gained approval from international organizations to seek commercial development for some of the artificially bred Chinese alligators.

Xie said an alligator grows six to eight years before reproducing and costs up to $470 (4,000 yuan) a year to keep.