A man who taunted and stomped on an alligator basking in the sun at a reserve in southeast China escaped without injury but has drawn the ire of animal lovers across the country.
Video footage that circulated widely on social media shows the man, who had apparently been drinking, reaching over the minimal guard railing to hit the alligator as it basked in the sun, possibly in the hope of stirring a reaction.
Losing patience as the animal continues to ignore him, he then hops over the rail and stomps on the alligator several times.
Luckily for the visitor, the alligator docilely slides off the rock into an algae-slicked pond without retaliating.
Park officials reported that the animal was unharmed, according to news portal Thepaper.cn.
The man, a visitor to the Yangtze Alligator Reserve in Anhui province, was immediately detained by security personnel, the report said.
Park officials said he had been drinking.
The Xuancheng Alligator Lake, the scene of the provocation, and its surrounding park are home to some 8,000 Yangtze alligators bred on-site in the research centre.
Officials at the reserve told the media that they would strengthen security measures to better protect the alligators from park visitors in future.
While the breeding programme has ensured relatively high numbers remain in captivity, the Yangtze alligator, or Chinese alligator, is one of the most critically endangered members of the crocodile family.
Fewer than 120 of the reptiles remain in their natural habitat along the waterways and marshes of the Yangtze, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) China.
Humans have been encroaching on their habitat for millennia – dating back to the time 7,000 years ago when farmers started cultivating rice along the Yangtze floodplain.
Since then their habitat has been steadily shrinking and the trend has accelerated rapidly in recent decades.
Nowadays wild alligators are only found in a small number of areas in the lower Yangtze in the provinces of Anhui and Zhejiang, according to WCS China.
Many social media users criticised the man, observing that he was lucky to have escaped unscathed while others applauded the alligator’s restraint.
“Alligator: I am a noble dragon, and I will not pay attention to you,” one Weibo user wrote, alluding to a traditional name for the Yangtze alligator, earth dragon.
“I hope he falls in and gets bitten,” another wrote.
There have also been a string of incidents in which Chinese visitors to zoos and wildlife parks have tried to provoke the animals.
Earlier this year visitors to a zoo in southeastern China killed one kangaroo and injured another by throwing bricks at the animals to make them hop.
Several visitors to a zoo in Zhejiang have been mauled by lions or tigers after scaling the walls to avoid paying the entrance fee, including a man who was killed by a tiger in 2017.