Across the vast territory of China, the greatest diversity of wild animals live and thrive. There are over 6,000 species of vertebrates, almost a tenth of the world’s total, more than 50,000 species of invertebrates, and over 150,000 types of insects. A substantial number of them are rare animals that have survived the Tertiary and Quaternary periods as most areas of China escaped the continental glaciers of that period. China’s indigenous endangered animal species listed in the appendices of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) exceed 120.
Given the influence of natural environment on species distribution, zoologists have been able to draw a detailed map of the habitats of rare animals based on field investigations and studies.
On the extensive land of northeastern China, in its temperate forests, forest steppes, wetlands, farmlands, and cold temperate coniferous forests live animals such as Siberian tigers, Asian black bears, sables, mountain hares, whooper swans, and red-crowned cranes.
The Siberian (Amur) tiger, the world’s largest feline carnivore, is an endangered species with fewer than twenty feral ones left in China. Artificially bred Siberian tigers amount to about 2,000 now. Protected reserves are located in Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces.
Situated in the temperate monsoon zone with four distinct seasons, North China is home to leopards, elaphures, gorals, goshawks, and many other rare animals. The open, extensive temperate grassland in Inner Mongolia supports numerous cavernicolous (cave dwelling) and terrestrial animals, as well as fast running animals such as wolves and Przewalski’s horses. Dry and barren areas like Qaidam Basin on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are inhabited by drought-resistant species such as Russian tortoises and camels.
Kiang, Tibetan antelope, blue sheep, and vultures are the best-known Qinghai-Tibet Plateau animals. Tibetan antelope, a gregarious animal, is acclaimed as “the pride of Hoh Xil.” Poachers have killed large numbers of Tibetan antelopes for their cashmere of which only 125 to 150 grams is collectable from each poached animal. This wool is then smuggled abroad to manufacture shahtoosh shawls. The number of Tibetan antelope, which shrank quickly from one million in the 1970s to 50,000 by 1995, has in recent years risen to over 200,000 thanks to a series of protective measures. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go in the protection of this rare species.
In the humid, immense subtropical region south of the Qinling Mountains and Huai River and east of the mid-Hengduan Mountains, the temperature changes slightly throughout the year, but the landform is greatly varied. Here precious creatures, such as snub-nosed monkeys, pangolins, giant pandas, clouded leopards, and baiji (white-fin) dolphins live.
The giant panda is a unique native species inhabiting the valleys and mountains of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. This rotund, black-and-white, slow-moving, and bamboo-eating animal enjoys high popularity worldwide. However, its poor adaptation to the environment has resulted in its limited number, with only 1,660 feral pandas remaining. China’s captive pandas, bred on the reserve and research center in Wolong, Sichuan province and other domestic institutions, totaled 333 in the early 2010s.
Rare animals, such as the rhesus macaque, red pandas, sika deer, green peafowls, beetles of the genus cheirotonus spp. and the Mansfield’s Three-tailed Swallowtail, live in the wet, warm and lush subtropical forests in southwestern China.
China’s tropical areas, spanning from southern Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, southern Fujian to Taiwan, perennially hot and rainy, have nurtured luxuriant plant growth and thus provided thick shelters for an abundance of animals, such as loris, Francois’ leaf monkeys, sun bears, Asian elephants, water monitor lizards, and Romer’s tree frogs, among others.
Apart from the abovementioned land animals, there are many rare marine creatures, for example Chinese white dolphins, sperm whales, blue whales, dugongs, green sea turtles, red corals, and nautiluses living in China’s eastern and southern seas. In addition to curbing overfishing and illegitimate killing, the protection of water resources is also essential to the prospering of marine life.