Alligators are known for their sharp, strong jaws and super swimming speed—definitely not an animal that you want to run into in the wild! Alligators are wild animals who live in slow-moving freshwater areas like rivers, swamps, lakes, marshes. There are no alligator species that are native to Canada, so the only alligators in the country are the ones in captivity in zoos or aquariums.
Alligators are carnivores and very strong. However, they have actually only killed 10 people in the past decade, compared to hundreds of deaths caused by crocodiles (a similar animal that we will cover below). Therefore, it’s pretty safe to be around these creatures. The American Alligator is the most common kind, living in habitats like Florida in the United States. Again, there are no alligators native to Canada, so if you want to see one, you’ll have to head to the zoo!
Let’s review some more general information about alligators and then discuss where someone can see an alligator in Canada.
Alligators versus crocodiles
A lot of people use the names alligator and crocodile interchangeably to describe the same animal. Both of these animals are the closest living animal to dinosaurs and can be traced back over 70 million years! While both are members of the Crocodylia scientific order, they are actually different species and differ in their appearance, behaviour, lifespan, and skill.
Some of the main differences between crocodiles and alligators include:
- Habitat: Alligators prefer fresh water, but crocodiles will live in freshwater or saltwater environments.
- Appearance: Alligators have short, more rounded snouts and you cannot see their teeth when the mouth is shut. Crocodiles, in contrast, have longer and more pointed snouts; you can see the teeth when their mouth is shut.
- Behaviour: Alligators are safer than crocodiles and are generally more docile, whereas crocodiles are much more aggressive and likely to attack people
- Lifespan: Alligators live between 30-50 years, whereas crocodiles can live all the way up to 100 years!
In addition to crocodiles, there are other similar animals in the Crocodilian family—23 species to be exact. There are two alligator species, 14 crocodile species, one gharial species, and six caiman species. These all look similar and share some attributes, but also differ in many ways.
Alligator species and habitats
As mentioned, there are a number of species of alligators and related species, too. Since we are looking at alligators, specifically, we’ll focus on the two alligators that are alive today: the American Alligator and the Chinese Alligator.
- American Alligator (Alligator Mississippiensis): This is the alligator that is native to the southeastern United States, living in states like Alabama, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. They live in freshwater swamps, marshes, rivers, and lakes.
- Chinese Alligator (Alligator Sinensis): This type of alligator lives in Cina, near the regions surrounding the lower Yangtze River. They live in low-elevation areas around rivers, streams, lakes, and swamps. Chinese alligators are significantly smaller than American alligators.
These alligators only live in their respective regions, as they are not animals that migrate and move to different habitats and places around the world. So, if you want to see an alligator in the wild, visit the southern US or China!
Alligators in captivity in Canada
Since the two types of alligators alive today live only in the United States and China, there are no native alligators in Canada. If you want to visit alligators in Canada, you will have to visit one in the zoo. Most major zoos and aquariums in Canada will have alligators that you can check out and explore.
Here are some places in Canada that you can see an alligator:
- The Toronto Zoo is home to the American Alligator.
- The Greater Vancouver Zoo is home to Pandora, a female American Alligator.
- Canada’s Dinosaur Park in Ontario has an Indian River Reptile Croc-Walk exhibit with both crocodiles and alligators.
- Reptilia Zoo in Ontario is home to all kinds of reptiles, and has 250 species of them, including alligators! You can also see other amphibians and reptiles that are not available in other Canadian zoos.
While a lot of people like visiting a zoo or aquarium to see the animals, there is also some criticism gains these institutions. Some animal activists feel like it is exploiting the animals to raise them in captivity, away from their natural habitat. It is true that there have been significant concerns about how some zoos treat their animals in captivity. In Canada, there has been some recent critique that Canadian zoos do a poor job taking care of animals because of the lack of legislation to protect animals.
On the other side of the argument, a lot of zoos and aquariums actually work to save animals and have conservation goals. Some even will rehabilitate animals back into their natural environments if possible. There is also an organization called Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, which is “committed to the advancement of accredited zoos and aquariums as humane agencies of animal welfare, conservation, science, and education.”
One benefit to animals living in captivity is that they have a longer lifespan, due to the lack of natural predators or human conditions that can negatively impact their health and lifespan. This makes them useful for scientific study and education. American Alligators, specifically, can live up to 65-80 years in captivity, whereas in the wild, they live between 30-50 years only.
Alligators are fascinating creatures and, along with crocodiles, are the closest living creature to a dinosaur! They are, therefore, “living fossils” that scientists love to research and study. There are two types of alligators in the world—the American Alligator and the Chinese Alligator. Since they are native to those regions, they are not found in the wild in Canada.
To see an alligator in Canada, you have to visit the zoo or aquarium, where they are commonly found. While alligators are generally docile, you definitely don’t want to meet one in the wild—maybe it’s a good thing to only see them in the aquarium!