Wildlife in China - Elephants, gerbils and cranes

snow leopard, chinese wildlife
Portrait of a male snow leopard (Panthera uncia) of the Rheintal zoo. Modifications made by Niabot . Image by Tambako available under a Creative Commons License

As the third largest country by land area you might expect China to be rich in wildlife, and it certainly does not disappoint, it has 30,000 species of plants (including over 7,000 tree species) and 2,000 vertebrate species (10% of the world) of which 1,198 are birds; 500 animals; 210 amphibians and 320 reptiles. This makes it the most diverse flora and fauna of any country in the temperate zone.

Yading Nature Reserve,  Tibet
Chanadorje (Xianuoduoji, 5958m) and Chonggu Grassland, Yading National Nature Reserve. Oct. 2016. Image by Dcpeets available under a Creative Commons License

The distribution is far from uniform. China's varied geography provides many different environments for wildlife – from the cold mountains of Heilongjiang, the deserts of Inner Mongolia to the tropical valleys of Yunnan there is a wide range of habitats for plants and animals. The heavily populated areas close to the eastern coast have been cultivated so extensively for so long that there is little space for wildlife, however China still has many mountains and forested areas that teem with wildlife.

Looking at the regions in more detail, the warmest and moistest are the true tropical forests on Hainan island and some valleys of southern Yunnan. In the tropical waters of Hainan the rare Hawksbill turtle can be seen. Jianfeng Nature Reserve, Hainan has a great range of plants and tropical butterflies. In Yunnan you can still see elephants that used to be widespread over much of China. Here there are extensive rhododendron and bamboo forests. The Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve harbors black bears, palm civets and Asian golden cats and the diminutive mouse deer. There is a huge range of plants including banyans, olives, and longan trees.

chinese wildlife, hawskbill turtle
Eretmochelys imbricata. CIMG2748 Hawksbill Turtle Swimming. 12 July 2008. Image by Tim Sheerman-Chase available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Common mormon butterfly,  Papilio polytes
Common mormon butterflies (Papilio polytes) are widely distributed throughout Asia. This photo has been taken at my home garden. (Bharuch, Gujarat, India). Image by Ridhdhesh1994 available under a Creative Commons License
Palm Civet
This species is found in dense forests of Himalayas and China. The difference is the Palm Civet has no spots on the body and also have white whiskers. This species were found all around Himalayas and China sometime back, but few are now left as the forests have rapidly vanished. Image by Black Pearl available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Mouse deer, Tragulus kanchil
A chevrotain or Lesser mouse-deer (Tragulus kanchil) roaming almost freely about in the Singapore Zoo. Jan 2012. Image by Uspn available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Extra Lascar,  Pantoporia sandaka
This butterfly Pantoporia Sandaka species is present in India , South East Asia, Burma, China South Hainan, Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo. March 2016. Image by dany13 available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Ophiocordyceps jiangxiensi
Ophiocordyceps jiangxiensis. NaBanHe, Xishuangbanna, Yunan, China, August 2015. Image by Steve Axford available under a Creative Commons License

The situation in neighboring Tibet is very different, with harsh winters and low rainfall there are limited opportunities for wildlife; notable species include the blue poppy, yaks, Himalayan blue sheep, Thorold's deer and Snow leopards. It is from this Himalayan region that tea bushes and all citrus fruit trees are believed to originate. The Tibetan area continues east into Sichuan where there is a greater range of wildlife; it is famous as the home of giant pandas. Mount Emei and the surrounding area boasts 3,200 plant species including Gingko, Nanmu tree, Handkerchief tree and also tree ferns. Wanglang reserve in Sichuan not only has pandas but also the rare Takin, musk deer, Serow as well as many birds.

chinese wildlife, blue sheep
Himalayan blue sheep in Tibet. September 2008. Image by reurinkjan available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, takin
Baby Takin. 16 March 2010. Image by Dirk available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata
Ruskin Park, London. May 2013. Image by James Petts available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, snub-nosed monkey, Rhinopithecus roxellana
Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys, Rhinopithecus roxellana in captivity outside of Xi'an, China. Endangered. Sept. 2009. Image by Jack Hynes available under a Creative Commons License

Further north is the dry and mainly desolate province of Qinghai named after the largest mountain lake in Asia; the lake is a magnet for rare birds on their migrations and Bird Island within the lake attracts up to 100,000 birds. Further north Gansu and Inner Mongolia experience long droughts and cold winters that only allow for grasslands to prosper. Sheep, goats, yaks, saiga antelopes, goitered gazelles, rare Bactrian camels and horses wander to find limited pasture. Within the desert regions is the native habitat of gerbils. Rare carnivores include the Pallas's cat and for plants there is wormwood and the goji berry.

chinese wildlife, Bactrian Camel,  Camelus bactrianus
Bactrian camel at a tourist spot near Yangshuo Town, China. Image by Jakub Halun available under a Creative Commons License
QinghaiLake,  Bird island,  birds
Bird Island nature reserve, Qinghai Lake. 2011. Image by sylvannus available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Goitered Gazelle,  Gazella subgutturosa
Goitered gazelle in Zoo Hluboka. Czech Republic. July 2013. Image by Zoo Hluboka available under a Creative Commons License

In the far north-east, in Heilongjiang, bitterly cold winters limit possibilities for nature. The Siberian tiger still roams and vast coniferous forests cover the mountains but it has important marshy areas too. Zhalong Reserve has reed-beds that support 300 species of birds including the rare Marsh grassbird as well as the Asiatic Black bear and Azure winged magpie. Cranes are very popular in China, they symbolize long life and fidelity because the birds mate for life and have an elaborate courtship display. There are fifteen species of crane many of which are endangered. Up in the north the Red-crowned, White-napped and Siberian cranes can be seen on their migratory travels as well as the rare Swan goose.

chinese wildlife, Azure winged magpie, Cyanopica cyanus
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus, Fujigaoka 2 Chome, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Image by Toshihiro Gamo available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Siberian crane,  Grus leucogeranus
I feel immensely privileged to have had Siberian Cranes fly over my head. Poyang Lake, China. Nov. 2014. Image by Alastair Rae available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife,  Pallas's Cat,  Manul, Otocolobus manul
A Manul (Pallas's cat) at Diergaarde Blijdorp, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Nov. 2010. Image by Linda available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, White-naped Crane, Grus vipio
January White-naped Crane at Saijo, Ehime, Japan. Jan. 2007. Image by Spaceaero2 available under a Creative Commons License

Moving to look at central China one of the most notable Nature Reserves is Wulingyuan in Hunan. Among the spectacular forested mountains are 500 species of tree, including the Dawn Redwood tree (metasequoia) which is a ‘living fossil’ that was for a long time considered extinct. It is also home to the Giant salamander, Rhesus monkey and many birds but is probably most famous as the setting for the epic film ‘Avator’. In Shennongjia, Hubei there are also forests with associated rare plants and the Golden monkey. It is here that the ‘Chinese Wild Man’ was believed to have lived. Further east, near the Yangzi river delta in Zhejiang and Anhui, there are conservation efforts to maintain the endangered Chinese alligator.

chinese wildlife,  dawn redwood,  Metasequoia glyptostroboides
Metasequoia glyptostroboides. May 2005. Image by Georges Jansoone available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, chinese alligator, Alligator sinensis
Chinese alligator, March 2016. Image by RedGazelle15 available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Bamboo Orchid
Arundina graminifolia. Common names: Bamboo Orchid. Kinta Weed. Origin: India, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia.July 2014. Image by Mokkie available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Dwarf slipper orchid,  Cypripedium debile
Dwarf slipper orchid, Cypripedium debile. April 2017. Image by Snotch available under a Creative Commons License

In the far south the Hong Kong botanical garden and the nearby managed marshlands at Mai Po are definitely worth a mention – herons, egrets, black-faced spoonbills can be seen.

chinese wildlife,  Black-faced Spoonbill,  Platalea minor
Black-faced Spoonbill in Kakegawa Kachoen, Japan. Jan 2017. Image by Takashi Hososhima available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Rhesus macaques
Rhesus macaques at Galtaji, Jaipur. The Monkey temple was featured in National Geographic Channel's Rebel Monkeys series. Image by Ronit Dhanphole available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, pond heron, Ardeola bacchus
Taken in Mai Po marshes. Hong Kong. April 2014. Image by Thomas Brown available under a Creative Commons License

Many species from China have found their abroad. In the UK, the Muntjac and Chinese water deer have flourished after escaping from parks and zoos. The colorful Mandarin duck is now widespread and the pheasant, of which there are several species, is another bird originating from Asia. It is, however, for the many beautiful garden plants we owe the heaviest debt to China. Europe not only copied Chinese garden design but also imported plants. In the late nineteenth century plant hunters brought back many beautiful plants from China which now grace our gardens including: azaleas; rhododendrons; peonies; kolkwitzias; weigelas; peaches; ornamental roses; jasmines; daphnes and lilies.

chinese wildlife, Bletilla striata, Chinese ground orchid
Taken atthe Cambridge University Botanic Garden. June 2010. Image by Magnus Manske available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife,  silver pheasant,  Lophura nycthemera
Silver Pheasant (Lophura nycthemera) at National Zoo Malaysia. 2011. Image by Tu7uh available under a Creative Commons License
chinese wildlife, Asian Blue Quail,  Chinese Painted Quail, Coturnix chinensis
Asian Blue Quail (Coturnix chinensis), also known as Chinese Painted Quail. Oct 2005. Image by Aka available under a Creative Commons License

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