Increasingly rare Asian elephants are prized residents here in the largest stretch of tropical rain forest in China, home as well to more than 100 mammal species including tigers, gaur (world’s largest wild oxen, weighing up to a ton/1,000 kg), slow loris, crested (or whitecheeked) and hoolock (or white-browed) gibbons, and golden-haired monkeys. There are 427 kinds of birds including great pied and rufous-necked hornbills, green peafowl, crimson sunbirds, thick-billed flowerpeckers, peacock-pheasants, blossom-headed parakeets, red jungle fowl, as well as Asian barred owls, ospreys, and serpent eagles. The reserve, actually a 926- square-mile (2,400-km2) merger (unfortunately still not fully contiguous) of five reserves in the extreme south of Yunnan Province, is now under threat by population pressures from various directions including shifting agricultural trends, which have replaced forest with rubber and tea plantations, as well as unsustainable forestry harvesting for energy production. These are damaging not only to wildlife but human interests (since 1960, average temperatures here have risen 1.8°F/1°C, and rainfall has dropped 10–20 percent). A joint project by China’s South Forestry College with World Wide Fund for Nature attempts to create public awareness and replace unsustainable land use with fast-growing nitrogen-fixing trees. Elephant herds here have increased, helped by payments to compensate farmers for depredations.

Hiking trails afford best viewing, though wildlife is not always easy to see in dense forest. Best times are spring—March–April—and fall—September–October (avoid mid-April watersplashing festivals unless you’re prepared to be drenched). Buses and thrice-daily flights connect Kunming to nearby Jinghong which has lodging, good roads, reserve headquarters, and information.


Other notable reserves include Caohai Lake Nature Reserve, one of the most important wintering sites in southwest China, 38-square-mile (96-km2) home to some 100,000 ducks, eagles, egrets, herons, geese, cormorants, and others—more than 185 species, including black-necked cranes. A comeback story, Caohai was drained disastrously during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, then dammed, refilled, and declared a reserve in 1982, creating resentment among local landowners and farmers which turned to enthusiastic support through creative interactive aid for and with local groups assisted by the U.S. International Crane Foundation.

Huanghe (Yellow River) Delta, major staging area for migrating cranes, swans, and many other waterfowl and wading birds in north China’s Shandong Province, of which 196 square miles (507 km2) has become a reserve.

Yancheng Marshes, a 180-square-mile (467-km2) coastal Jiangsu reserve important for wetland birds and Chinese parrotbills, adjacent to Dafeng Reserve where Père David’s deer have been reintroduced.

Shennongjia, famous for golden monkeys and mythical “wild men” of Hubei, is 272 square miles (705 km2) in Hubei Province.

Qinghai Lake, notable breeding area for bar-headed geese and others, of which a (regrettably) small fraction, 206 square miles (533 km2), is a reserve.

Tashikuorgan is important for Marco Polo sheep, snow leopards, other high-altitude species, 5,790 square miles (15,000 km2) adjacent to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Chiangtang is 92,664 square miles (240,000 km2) in northern Tibet preserving cold desert, lake and marsh homes of yaks, snow leopards, and Tibetan gazelles.

Zhufeng, contiguous with Nepal’s SAGARMANTHA PARK (p.246), located near the peak of Mount Everest.

Shenzha, remote breeding ground for black-headed cranes and other waterfowl, is 11,583 square miles (30,000 km2) with marshy steppes in the middle of Tibet.

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XISHUANGBANNA as well as...

Caohai Lake Nature Reserve

Huanghe (Yellow River) Delta

Yancheng Marshes

Dafeng Reserve


Qinghai Lake