China

Giant pandas and Siberian cranes found here share worldwide concern because of their rarity and beauty, but China also has a remnant population of tigers and Asian elephants. Still under great pressure from population and economic development, the country has begun to develop environmental restoration plans.

Bearlike giant pandas peer out of bamboo glades here, their black masks and expressions at once innocent and mischievous.Their endearing appearance has attracted worldwide affection and concern; they have come to symbolize rare, endangered species everywhere as they do the beleaguered and wonderful wildlifeof their native land, where much of the landscape has been denuded of natural features by pollution,deforestation, ill-advised land-use projects, and pressures of burgeoning population.

Yet with all its problems, this vast, beautiful country lays claim to some great wildlife diversity. More than 4,400 vertebrate species are here—more than 10 percent of the world’s total. They include nearly 500 mammal species, 1,189 birds, more than 210 amphibians, 320 reptiles, and 2,200 fish. Along with snow and clouded leopards are many other rarities—golden monkeys,white-lipped deer, takins (looking like goat-antelopes with long shaggy fur like musk-oxen), Asian elephants, Manchurian tigers, Chinese river dolphins, Chinese alligators.

Flora are equally remarkable—some 32,800 species of higher plants, over 12 percent of the world’s total, of which 2,800 are trees—ancient Cathay silver firs, China cypresses, golden larches, towering meta-sequoias 115 feet (35 m) tall. A major 20th-century botanical event was discovery of more than 1,000 meta-sequoias, common worldwide 100 million years ago but thought extinct since ice ages, on the Sichuan–Hubei border. Of the world’s 800 azalea varieties,650 are in Yunnan. Many of the world’s rhododendrons, roses, magnolias, and camellias descend from ancestors here.

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China’s wildlife and habitat suffered severely during the 1966–76 Cultural Revolution. But in reaction, significant efforts have been undertaken to protect remaining natural resources.Laws were passed giving conservation a priority, legalizing citizens’ environmental groups, and more than 900 nature reserves have been established covering some 307,956 square miles (800,000 km2), 7.64 percent of this huge country. Habitats range from tropical mangrove swamps and coral reefs to coniferous forests in subarctic permafrost—from the edges of icy 29,087-foot (8,848-m) Mount Everest and high cold deserts of the Tibet Plateau to rivers carving dramatic gorges en route to the world’s second-lowest spot, the torrid Turfan depression,505 feet (154 m) below sea level.

Northeastern mountains support Asiatic sable, moose, and the last Manchurian tigers. Camels, Asiatic asses, wolves, and wild sheep live along the arid Mongolian border.

Red-crowned cranes are making a comeback at Heilongjiang Province’s Zhalong Nature Preserve on a giant 840-square-mile (2,175-km2) marsh which lies on a migration path extending from the Russian arctic around the Gobi Desert down into Southeast Asia. It’s a stopover and nesting area for tens of thousands of storks, swans, herons, harriers, grebes, and others, between April and October.

Southwestern mountains with steep, still-largely-forested river valleys shelter takins, red pandas, and snub-nosed monkeys. The Tibet Plateau is home to wild yaks, snow leopards, Tibetan antelopes, and its lakes and salt marshes are wintering grounds for rare beautiful black-necked cranes,especially on Caohai Reserve in northwest Guizhou and Qinghai Lake with its Niao Dao (Bird Island) in Qinghai Province.

Huge Arjin Shan Reserve, high, flat, remote, uninhabited, a 17,375-square-mile (45,000-km2) wilderness, is one of the last places in Asia where large herds of hoofed animals such as Tibetan wild yaks (some 10,000 of them), wild asses (30,000), Tibetan antelopes (up to 75,000), and gazelles can graze unimpeded over large areas, followed by predators like lynx,wolves, snow leopards, and steppe cats, surrounded by towering peaks which are home to ibexes and blue sheep.

Qomolangma in southernmost Tibet is part of an enormous protected complex contiguous to Nepal’s LANGTANG, SAGARMANTHA and MAKALU-BARUN parks (see p.246), 16,000 square miles (41,400 km2) altogether protecting much of the Everest ecosystem.

Note: Qomolangma is dedicated to showing how sustainable human development can work with nature preservation. Hunting bans are credited with encouraging recovery of endangered blue sheep, Tibetan wild asses, Tibetan gazelles, and snow leopards.

Alligators bask and Chinese river dolphins frolic in southeastern wetlands near the Chang River mouth. Lake Poyang is winter residence of some 80 percent of the world’s Siberian cranes. Giant pandas live along the narrow strip dividing this area from mountains to the west. Lakes Bitahai and Napahai in northwest Yunnan are important wintering sites for rare migratory birds.
 

Fourteen U.N. World Biosphere Reserves are here, some listed as among the world’s most important wetlands. Rescue projects have been activated for animals close to extinction—crested ibis, Chinese alligators, Eld’s and David’s deer. Saiga, with translucent amber horns and grotesquely outsize proboscis, have been extinct in the wild here, but reintroduction projects are under way. China has successfully bred more than 60 different species with the idea of releasing them to restored wild populations.

It’s not easy to see all these animals or these places. Many are remote and difficult to access. Few convenient visitor facilities exist as yet. But setting them aside is a start, and there is growing awareness of ecotourism benefits, both in tourism from elsewhere and among increasingly well-off Chinese.

Serious threats continue. They include use of animal parts for medicine—rhino horns, bears’ paws and gall bladders, and every part of tigers from eyeballs to sex organs, for epilepsy, paralysis, headaches, skin disease, impotence. Pandas die in snares set for endangered musk deer whose glands are prized in folk medicine. All this has worsened as such customs, ineffective for most medical conditions and disastrous for imperiled species, have been exported around the world.

Sharks’ fin soup continues popular while shark populations decline due to practice of taking only fins and releasing sharks to drown if not first eaten alive in the sea.

 Red-crowned cranes, one of the rarest of a rare family, depend on breeding and wintering grounds that are themselves precarious—Korea’s demilitarized zone and coastal, riverine and freshwater marshes in Russia and northeast China, threatened by dam construction, deforestation, and agricultural expansion. They prefer relatively deep water with standing dead vegetation, signaling location of the right spot with breathtaking courtship dances and unison calls audible for miles.

Red-crowned cranes, one of the rarest of a rare family, depend on breeding and wintering grounds that are themselves precarious—Korea’s demilitarized zone and coastal, riverine and freshwater marshes in Russia and northeast China, threatened by dam construction, deforestation, and agricultural expansion. They prefer relatively deep water with standing dead vegetation, signaling location of the right spot with breathtaking courtship dances and unison calls audible for miles.

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The pet trade is enormous. Every town has a bird market with a large array for sale—Peking robins, laughing thrushes, shamas, white-eyes, munias, mynas, parakeets, many—especially insectivores—doomed to die quickly in their tiny, exquisitely made cages, which will then be refilled with others. Wholesale export of birds as pets and for feather decorations has caused species to plummet—and so far, educational efforts have helped but little. Tourists should be mindful when dining or souvenir-shopping. 

NOTE: Severe penalties are making many think twice about poaching pandas since two Sichuan men found with panda skins were publicly executed and another 19 were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Spring (March–May) and fall (September–November) are best times to visit (avoid public holidays). Major cities are served by international airlines and there are good internal air, bus, and railroad networks—no car rental without a Chinese driving license, but cars with drivers are readily available.

Accommodations vary throughout the country but quality and service, formerly poor—especially for foreigners—has improved markedly everywhere, though until recently only camping has been feasible in areas far from civilization.

Red-crowned cranes are making a comeback at Heilongjiang Province’s Zhalong Nature Preserve on a giant 840-square-mile (2,175-km2) marsh which lies on a migration path extending from the Russian arctic around the Gobi Desert down into Southeast Asia. It’s a stopover and nesting area for tens of thousands of storks, swans, herons, harriers, grebes, and others, between April and October.

Southwestern mountains with steep, still-largely-forested river valleys shelter takins, red pandas, and snub-nosed monkeys. The Tibet Plateau is home to wild yaks, snow leopards, Tibetan antelopes, and its lakes and salt marshes are wintering grounds for rare beautiful black-necked cranes,especially on Caohai Reserve in northwest Guizhou and Qinghai Lake with its Niao Dao (Bird Island) in Qinghai Province.

Huge Arjin Shan Reserve, high, flat, remote, uninhabited, a 17,375-square-mile (45,000-km2) wilderness, is one of the last places in Asia where large herds of hoofed animals such as Tibetan wild yaks (some 10,000 of them), wild asses (30,000), Tibetan antelopes (up to 75,000), and gazelles can graze unimpeded over large areas, followed by predators like lynx,wolves, snow leopards, and steppe cats, surrounded by towering peaks which are home to ibexes and blue sheep.

Qomolangma in southernmost Tibet is part of an enormous protected complex contiguous to Nepal’s LANGTANG, SAGARMANTHA and MAKALU-BARUN parks (see p.246), 16,000 square miles (41,400 km2) altogether protecting much of the Everest ecosystem.

Note: Qomolangma is dedicated to showing how sustainable human development can work with nature preservation. Hunting bans are credited with encouraging recovery of endangered blue sheep, Tibetan wild asses, Tibetan gazelles, and snow leopards.

Alligators bask and Chinese river dolphins frolic in southeastern wetlands near the Chang River mouth. Lake Poyang is winter residence of some 80 percent of the world’s Siberian cranes. Giant pandas live along the narrow strip dividing this area from mountains to the west. Lakes Bitahai and Napahai in northwest Yunnan are important wintering sites for rare migratory birds.
 

Fourteen U.N. World Biosphere Reserves are here, some listed as among the world’s most important wetlands. Rescue projects have been activated for animals close to extinction—crested ibis, Chinese alligators, Eld’s and David’s deer. Saiga, with translucent amber horns and grotesquely outsize proboscis, have been extinct in the wild here, but reintroduction projects are under way. China has successfully bred more than 60 different species with the idea of releasing them to restored wild populations.

It’s not easy to see all these animals or these places. Many are remote and difficult to access. Few convenient visitor facilities exist as yet. But setting them aside is a start, and there is growing awareness of ecotourism benefits, both in tourism from elsewhere and among increasingly well-off Chinese.

Serious threats continue. They include use of animal parts for medicine—rhino horns, bears’ paws and gall bladders, and every part of tigers from eyeballs to sex organs, for epilepsy, paralysis, headaches, skin disease, impotence. Pandas die in snares set for endangered musk deer whose glands are prized in folk medicine. All this has worsened as such customs, ineffective for most medical conditions and disastrous for imperiled species, have been exported around the world.

Sharks’ fin soup continues popular while shark populations decline due to practice of taking only fins and releasing sharks to drown if not first eaten alive in the sea.

The pet trade is enormous. Every town has a bird market with a large array for sale—Peking robins, laughing thrushes, shamas, white-eyes, munias, mynas, parakeets, many—especially insectivores—doomed to die quickly in their tiny, exquisitely made cages, which will then be refilled with others. Wholesale export of birds as pets and for feather decorations has caused species to plummet—and so far, educational efforts have helped but little. Tourists should be mindful when dining or souvenir-shopping. 

NOTE: Severe penalties are making many think twice about poaching pandas since two Sichuan men found with panda skins were publicly executed and another 19 were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Spring (March–May) and fall (September–November) are best times to visit (avoid public holidays). Major cities are served by international airlines and there are good internal air, bus, and railroad networks—no car rental without a Chinese driving license, but cars with drivers are readily available.

Accommodations vary throughout the country but quality and service, formerly poor—especially for foreigners—has improved markedly everywhere, though until recently only camping has been feasible in areas far from civilization.

China

Zhalong Nature Preserve

Arjin Shan Reserve

WOLONG (SLEEPY DRAGON) NATURE RESERVE

CHANGBAI SHAN RESERVE

POYANG LAKE NATURE RESERVE

XISHUANGBANNA as well as...

Caohai Lake Nature Reserve

Huanghe (Yellow River) Delta

Yancheng Marshes

Dafeng Reserve

Shennongjia

Qinghai Lake

Tashikuorgan

Chiangtang

Zhufeng

Shenzha


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