China is an enigmatic country, home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, covering such a vast territory that only Russia, Canada and the United States surpass it.
It is a huge country, full of magical and revealing contrasts. It is urban in appearance but essentially rural, it’s traditional but innovative. As in its nature: two-thirds of its territory remain almost unspotted and are covered by rainforests, inhospitable deserts, rugged mountains, uplands, vertiginous valleys and some of the most spectacular water courses on the planet.
In spite of the rapid economic development and the inherent environmental deterioration during the last decades, this country still offers natural treasures unknown to the majority of visitors. Among those highlights is its fauna. It has more than 4,000 species of vertebrates, many of them are endemic, since they only live in this part of Asia.
Nattule will tell you all about these 7 species found in the territory of the Asian giant:
1. Giant Panda
The panda, the most beloved animal in China, is one of its national symbols. However, their survival is threatened by the destruction of their habitat and by poaching. So much so, that there are scarcely just 1,600 specimen living in freedom.
To see them you must go to the temperate forests that expand on the southwest of the country, through the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi. There, these giant plantlets, when they do not sleep, devour up to 40 kilos of bamboo a day, a plant that is the basis of their diet.
Giant panda © Matt
The Minshan Mountains, which run from north to south in Sichuan Province, host nearly half of the world’s population of pandas. This mountain range, full of vegetation, lagoons and waterfalls, is also the habitat of other valuable Asian species such as the Sichuan takin or the golden snub-nosed monkey.
Among the 27 panda reserves in the Minshan Mountains, we find China’s largest and oldest, which is the Wolong National Nature Reserve, which opened in 1963, with 300,000 hectares of habitat for 150 giant pandas.
The Wolong Reserve is a giant panda research center since 1980, when it was also declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco. It is a safe bet if you want to see and photograph these wonderful animals.
Keep in mind that you should avoid the rainy season and that the roads may not be very defined. It is best if you go to the National Reserve Administration Office, located in the village of Wolong, in the center of the Reserve, to obtain information on the available tours.
Wolong Reserve © Muzinan
You can reach Wolong by public transport or by car. The journey from the capital of the province, Chengdu, takes around 3 hours, but it is worth it for the glaciers and snow-capped mountains that surround the Reserve.
2. Red Panda
Overshined by its relative, it is less mediatic and lesser-known, but is also a fascinating animal. With a friendly face and red-faced raccoon appearance, it is one of the most difficult species to observe due to its timid character, small size and nocturnal patterns. Its distribution is wider than that of the giant panda, it can also be found in some areas of northeastern Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and India.
In China, where it shares the habitat with the giant panda in the central and southern mountain ranges, it is mainly found in the southern areas of Tibet, northern Yunnan and most of the Sichuan Province.
The lesser-known protected area of the Sichuan Province, where the red pandas roam free, is the Huanglong National Park. The steep wooded slopes of this Chinese region make up most of its space. The Red Panda takes advantage of the vast mixed forest for shelter and feed in areas where bamboo grows. It also feeds on insects, other vertebrates, fruits and even bird nests.
Nestled in the Min River basin, this Park stands out for its spectacular alpine landscapes of imposing peaks of more than 4,000 meters of altitude, karst reliefs, torrents and crystalline lakes. Huanglong also distinguishes itself for the location where the eastern glacier of China is situated and for one of the botanical jewels of the country – the giant rhododendron forests. Numerous waterfalls turn this place into a fairy tale.
The main route to Huanglong starts from the funicular station which takes you to the highlands. From there, you can start a descent that lasts 7 hours with spectacular panoramas.
The most convenient option to get there is to do it from the city of Songpan, even though there is only one bus during the first hours of the morning. Another alternative is to rent a vehicle with a driver, although it will be more expensive.
Huanglong © Matt
3. Snow Leopard
The great mountain ranges of Altai, Karakoram, Pamir and the Himalayas are the main areas to find this unknown and timid animal. In China it is possible to locate this mysterious feline in the 6 most western provinces, which are the most mountainous and less populated, where the snow leopard population is estimated to be around 2,000, making it the largest in the world.
The altitude and difficult access to these summits makes the leopard the true king of the mountains and the blue ram of the Himalayas its main prey.
The Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve, also known as the Three Rivers, is home to the Mekong, Huang He (Yellow River) and Yangtze River sources in the Tibetan plateau, in the Qinghai Province.
Blue ram of the Himalayas
With an area larger than Wales and England together, this Nature Reserve houses the largest population of leopards in China within its more than one million hectares. The best thing to have a real chance to see this wonder of the Asian fauna is to hire the services of a local specialized company, since locating this animal can take days, or even weeks, of intense search at more than 2,500 meters of altitude.
The best way to get to the Sanjiangyuan Reserve is to travel by bus from the capital, Xining, to Maduo, and from there hire the services of a private car.
Huang He River © Vick
4. Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey
Along with the giant panda, this primate is considered one of China’s national treasures. Like the bear, the golden snub-nosed monkey is an endemic Chinese species. And it is also in danger of extinction due to the deforestation of the montane forests in which it lives, in the center and southwest of the country. For this reason, it is under State’s protection and several reserves have been set up to protect them.
Used to living in high altitudes, golden snub-nosed monkeys are the primates that tolerate best cold and the snow. Look for them among the trees, because they usually spend time in the cups feeding on leaves, fruits, barks and small insects. In addition to its golden fur, you can easily recognize them by the intense blue tone of their face. An unusual color in mammals.
Golden snub-nosed monkey © Dan Doucette
On the northern slope of the Qinling Mountains, between the Yangtze and Huang He Rivers, we find the Zhouzhi National Nature Reserve, home to the largest part of the 20,000 specimens of these monkeys from those scattered throughout the world.
This Reserve covers around 55,000 hectares and houses a rich variety of animals and plants. Its exuberant virgin nature is another plus to visit, since 90% of its territory is covered with forests. Within the Reserve, some small rivers and streams of crystalline waters converge to feed the Heihe River, one of the longest rivers in China.
Zhouzhi Reserve © Shen
The easiest way to get to Zhouzhi is to travel by bus from Xian. The journey to the Reserve takes approximately one hour and a half.
5. Wild Bactrian Camel
The only really wild camel that exists in the world is the Bactrian camel. This camel one-ups his Arab relative in the number of humps, but does not compete in population. It is estimated that there are scarcely 1,000 species left in the Gobi desert in Mongolia and in northeastern China, where it lives between the deserts of Taklamakan and Lop Nur.
The latter expands along 3,000 square kilometers to the southeast of Xinjiang Province. There was a time when Lop Nur, the cradle of China’s largest inland lake, was a major stop on the Silk Route.
Today, however, desertification has made the area sparsely dotted with small salt lakes and seasonal lagoons. Caravans of merchants no longer stop there, but now it stand as an ideal territory for lovers of adventure and for those who are looking to find this camel with 2 humps. In 2001, a natural reserve was created especially for their protection.
The Lop Nur Reserve is located east of the Tarim River basin. From north to south, the corridor of sand dunes stretches for 80 kilometers and forms a natural barrier that shelters the Bactrian camel.
Lop Nur © stella_nghingyu
When you get there, carry sun protection and water supply in abundance, since the temperatures during the day can reach up to 40 degrees. The best months to avoid the strong sandstorms are in April and October. It is also recommended that you never travel alone. It is best to visit this area in organized groups.
China’s relationship with the elephants was not always good. Primarily because the country is one of the main buyers of ivory. Hence it is encouraging that the Government has constituted, to preserve this animal in the Xishuangbanna Natural Reserve.
Located in Yunnan Province, this Nature Reserve covers a wide expanse of thick tropical forests and varied vegetation in which rivers and streams intersect. There live a hundred of wild elephants, concentrated mainly in the area known as the Valley of the Elephants, which covers some 370 hectares within the Reserve.
Group of elephants
In order to be able to observe them without danger, an elevated wooden walkway has been constructed that takes you through the treetops along 290 meters. There are also some booths wagered near the rivers to observe them when they come to drink or bathe in the morning or at dusk.
Another good option if you do not want to walk is to use the 2 kilometers long funicular that goes over the Reserve.
The Valley of the Elephants is located just over 40 kilometers away from the city of Jinghong. From there, you have busses departing to the reserve every hour and a half. The best time of the year for a visit is between November and April, because of the weather, although you can do it without any problems throughout the year.
Xishuangbanna © Işık Güner
The takin is one of the most curious animals in this part of Asia. This species of hairy bull related to goats lives in the Himalayas and in the mountain ranges of western and northwestern China, a country in which it is considered in danger of extinction, since its population is only that of a few thousands.
Among the 4 subspecies of existing takin, the golden takin is probably the most striking. Its yellow golden fur has led to the belief that this species is the true origin of the Greek myth of the Golden Fleece of Jason.
Indiscriminate hunting has decimated the species. The surviving specimens are scattered in small groups in the Qinling Mountains, south of Shaanxi province.
In the Foping Nature Reserve, nestled in these mountains, the takin wanders between 1,500 and 3,000 meters of the slopes, feeding on mountain pastures, small bamboo shoots and leaves of trees and shrubs. In the summer, it migrates to the rocky peaks and the most alpine areas.
The Foping Reserve is also known because it houses a large population of panda bears and for being a shelter of one of the oldest plant species in the world, the ginkgo tree, which is said to have medicinal properties.
Road to the Qinling Mountains
The place is located 215 kilometers away from Xian, from where the buses depart. It is an ideal place for ecotourism lovers. Ornithological routes, wildlife observation and hiking are just some of the examples of the activities that can be done in the Reserve. If you want to visit it by yourself, you must contact the administration to ask for a permit, so it is more than advisable to hire an organized visit.
Millennial countries know that rushing is not good for survival. For this reason, calmness is the hallmark of deep China, where even the fauna behaves with ease. Nothing comparable with that of the savannah. Bamboo has less protein than wildebeest, but it does not flee.