China

China Landscape Photo
China has some of the world’s most complex landscapes.
©James Large
Chinese Man Smiling Photo
Human populations are growing and expanding into remote areas that formerly provided important wildlife habitat.
©James Large
Tibetan Antelope Photo
WCS works in China to assess and conserve populations of many species including Tibetan antelope.
©G. Schaller

China’s vast and complex landscapes are undergoing an equally vast and complex transformation. Its wildernesses span tropical and mountain forests, grasslands, meadows, deserts, high-altitude lakes, and coastal marshes. The sheer number of species found in the country is astounding: 580 mammals, 1,330 birds, 407 reptiles, 321 amphibians, and more than 3,500 fish. More than 10 percent of China’s vertebrate species are found only here—including the giant panda, three species of snub-nosed monkeys, Chinese alligator, Przewalski’s gazelle, and white-lipped and Pere David deer. Other important and threatened wildlife include tigers, snow leopards, wild yak, and Tibetan antelope or “chiru.” Despite China’s natural wealth, the country’s array of species has experienced unprecedented declines during the last few decades, largely due to the overexploitation of natural resources and unsustainable economic development.

Fast Facts

  • China holds the largest human population in the world, which is growing and expanding into remote areas that formerly provided important wildlife habitat.
  • Research suggests that fewer than 20 endangered Amur (AKA Siberian) tigers exist in the wild in China.
  • The Chinese alligator is the most critically endangered of the world’s 23 crocodilian species, with only 130 to 150 individuals remaining in the wild.
  • The Yangtze giant soft-shelled turtle—one of the largest freshwater turtle species—previously inhabited the lower reaches of Yangtze River and northern Vietnam, but is now extinct in the wild. Chinese zoos house the last three or four individuals.

Challenges

Species by species, the challenges are obvious: To keep remnant populations viable and to prevent threatened species from becoming endangered and endangered species from going extinct. As China’s human population grows and its infrastructure expands, the country is overusing, fragmenting, and destroying its habitats.

Despite protection policies and laws currently in place, poaching and illegal use of wildlife are common in several regions. Hunters heavily target many ungulates, which reduces the prey available for tigers. The big cats themselves are also hunted. Reptiles, amphibians, and migrant birds are slaughtered for food markets and traditional Chinese medicine. Large amounts of wetlands, rangelands, forests, and other wild lands have been exploited for farming, fisheries, and development, which can isolate, scatter, or even extinguish wildlife populations altogether. Domestic and international wildlife trade also threatens wildlife in China and its border countries.

WCS Responds

WCS has been working in China to assess and conserve populations of giant pandas, snow leopards, water deer, tigers, Tibetan antelope, Chinese alligators, Marco Polo sheep, turtles, and gazelles. Our conservationists have also established breeding programs for endangered turtles.

WCS began its work in China in 1910, when famed conservationist William Beebe conducted research on the pheasants of Asia. After Beebe, WCS’s chief scientist Dr. George Schaller began his long-term research in Sichuan on giant pandas and in Tibet on chiru and other upland ungulates. In 1996, WCS-China set up its program office in Shanghai and moved to Beijing in 2005. Today, the program also runs offices in Lhasa, Hunchun, and Guangzhou.

In the 1990s, Schaller conducted surveys of the windswept Tibetan plateau and discovered that large-scale poaching had nearly decimated the chiru population, prized for its expensive, fine fur. He publicized the slaughter, and in 1993, as a direct result, the Chinese government established the Chang Tang Nature Preserve, later adding preserves in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Qianghai. In 2006, WCS co-hosted a transboundary workshop on Pamir wildlife conservation with government officials from China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. We continue to promote transboundary cooperation for Marco Polo sheep across their entire range. WCS has also initiated a reintroduction project for Chinese alligators and transported U.S.-born Chinese alligators back to China, three of which joined a group from Zhejiang Yinjiabian Nature Reserve, and were released on Shanghai’s Chongming Island.

Currently, WCS-China is working with multiple government and non-governmental partners on wildlife conservation and management across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Amur tiger conservation in northeastern China’s transboundary area. We also join these partners in conservation efforts for the Chinese alligator and giant soft-shelled turtle in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and education and enforcement training to reduce wildlife trade and consumption in South China.

From the Newsroom

China's ivory crush may be a half measure – but it's a welcome oneJanuary 8, 2014

Joe Walston, WCS Asia Executive Director, believes the importance of China's ivory crush lies within the government's internal debates, not in its impact on the price of ivory.

Record Poacher Arrest in ChinaDecember 16, 2013

Five poachers who admitted to killing more than 20 animals have been arrested in China’s Jilin Province, making it the largest-ever wildlife crime arrest for the area. Here, a forestry official examines the evidence.

Corruption along the Vietnam-China Border Permits Massive Wildlife SmugglingAugust 8, 2013

Scott Roberton, representative of WCS’s Vietnam Program, describes the country’s vast wildlife trade that is driving many species to extinction, as well as the progress being made to combat it.

Rare Appearance for an Extremely Rare CatApril 25, 2012

Camera traps set up by protected area staff in Hunchun Amur Tiger National Nature Reserve snap the first-known camera trap photos of an Amur leopard in China.

Searching for Snares in ChinaJanuary 31, 2012

Dozens of volunteers have braved northeast China’s freezing temperatures to clear illegal wire traps that catch endangered Amur tigers.

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