WILD ANIMALS IN CHINA: ELEPHANTS, SNAKES, CAMELS, ASIAN CARP AND HORSES

WILD ANIMALS IN CHINA

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Takin, lives in same area as golden monkey
China lies in two of the world's major zoogeographic regions, the Palearctic and the Oriental. The Tibetan Plateau, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions, northeastern China, and all areas north of the Huang He are in the Palearctic region. Central, southern, and southwest China lie in the Oriental region. In the Palearctic zone are found such important mammals as the river fox, horse, camel, tapir, mouse hare, hamster, and jerboa. Among the species found in the Oriental region are the civet cat, Chinese pangolin, bamboo rat, tree shrew, and also gibbon and various other species of monkeys and apes.

Some overlap exists between the two regions because of natural dispersal and migration, and deer or antelope, bears, wolves, pigs, and rodents are found in all of the diverse climatic and geological environments. The famous giant panda is found only in a limited area in Sichuan and Gansu Provinces.

In some parts of China there has been huge population explosions of rats, so many that naturalists worry about their impact on forests and grasslands. By some estimated rats have damaged 1.4 million hectare of land and some worry they could trigger an outbreak of the plague.In March 2006, the Chinese government said it would spend $1 billion to repel the invasion of rats that was infesting wetlands on the Tibetan plateau. In the previous decade rats had destroyed one third of the grass lands in the massive Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve in remote western Qinghai Province, exacerbating erosion around the world’s highest and largest wetland. The rats damaged the grasslands by eating the grass, digging holes and turning the earth, transforming pastures into wetlands.

In India and China otters are taught to catch fish for their human owners. In China, raccoon dogs (tanukis) are bred in farms for their raccoon-like fur, which is used to trim coats and other clothing. In 2008, 1,500 racoon died from eating feed tainted with melamine.

Small Prezwalski Horses, or Wild Asiatic horses, are the last remaining species of wild horse. They are found almost exclusively in zoos although a few wild ones remain in the remote Altyn Dagh mountains of Xinjiang and some have been reintroduced to Mongolia. See Mongolia. Ancient Juchi and Il in Chinese Turkestan were famous for heavenly horses thought to have been the offspring of dragons and celestial horses.

The Chinese sturgeon has been around for 140 million years. It grows very slowly and was among the first class of animals to be protected in China. Deformities such as one or no eyes and misshapen skeletons and decreasing numbers of rare wild Chinese sturgeon in the Yangtze has been blamed on a paint chemical widely used in Chinese industry.

Elephants in China

There are about 300 wild elephants in China. They were once were found as north as Beijing but over the centuries have seen their numbers decline and habitat shrink as result of wars, ivory hunting, the destruction of forests. The last remaining elephants are found in three separate areas squeezed into ever-shrinking habitats sandwiched between rubber plantations, tea farms, rice paddies, highways and development schemes.

Killing an elephant is a serious crime. In 1995, four people were executed for poaching elephants for their tusks, Since then no poaching cases have been reported although some elephants have been wounded by gunshots when they have wandered across borders to Myanmar and Laos.

A male elephant named Xiguang was captured along the Chinese-Myanmar border by drug smugglers in March 2005 using heroin-laced bananas to pacify the creature, The elephant continue to be fed the bananas and became addicted to heroin. Two months later Xiaguang was captured with six other elephants in southwest China and found to suffering from withdrawal,. He was sent for rehab in a protection center on Hainan Island and was cured of his addiction using daily methadone doses five time larger than those given to humans

China is the largest market for ivory. Much of the ivory from poached elephants in Africa is smuggled into China . Jewelry, chopsticks, and figures made from ivory are widely sold in souvenir shops in southern China. According to animal welfare groups, few Chinese realize that ivory comes from killed elephants.

In July 2008, CITES allowed China to import ivory from several African nations.

Elephants in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan

The most famous elephant herd in China is in Wild Elephant Valley park near Mengman in the Xishuangbanna region of southwest Yunnan near Laos and Myanmar. The elephants are a big tourist attraction but otherwise they have an uneasy relation with the human population there who put up with gobbled up crops, smashed greenhouses and even laundry pulled off of clotheslines by the elephants. [Source: Barbara Demick and Nicole Liu, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2010]

In 2008, a woman who ran a food kiosk in the park was trampled to death by an angry elephant. A few months late a U.S. tourist was critically injured by an elephant while trying to take a picture. In a village near the park an elephant killed a television cameraman investigating reports about crop destruction. Another villager, an old man, was trampled to death while collecting peanuts in the mud. In 2005, raids by wild elephants in Yunnan Province killed three villagers and destroyed crops belonging to 12,000 households in 576 communities.

In recent years helping the elephants has become a cause taken up by environmentalists and the government, with the latter doing things like providing compensation for crops damaged by elephants, paying villagers to collect data on the elephants and offering farmers micro-credit loans to raise tea which elephants don’t like over corn which they fancy. In large cities animal welfare groups have organized campaigns to encourage Chinese not to buy ivory and to inform them that ivory comes killed elephants. There is some discussion of setting up a captive breeding center for elephants like the one for pandas.

Officials in Yunnan Province announced the creation of “dinner halls” for wild elephants to prevent them from devouring crops and attacking villages. Seventy hectares of bananas and sugar cane have been raised on spare land away from villages in hopes that 300 wild elephants that live in the area will eat these crops and leave farmer’s crops alone.

On how locals view the elephants one villager told the Los Angeles Times, “The villagers get angry with the elephants, but there is nothing they can do about it. The elephants are protected by the government.” One elderly farmer told the Los Angeles Times, “I see them now more often than I did when I was growing up in the 1950s. Back then there was jungle everywhere and they seldom emerged.”

Deer in China

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Pere David deer
The Chinese water deer stands only 30 inches high. Found in reedy marshes in northeastern China, it is the only deer species that lacks antlers other than the musk deer. Both males and females have long, striking tusks---actually long, sharp upper canine teeth---that drop down out of their mouth. Males use the tusks when they fight. The oldest prehistoric deer had tusks. Horns and antlers were developed later. The Chinese water deer also swims and barks.

The milu deer of the Yangtze River Basin has made a comeback despite having its population decimated by habitat loss and hunting.

Musk Deer

Musk deer are small deer that live in highland areas in central and eastern Asia, particularly in western China and the Himalayas. They are shy, usually feeding at night, and tend to live alone, occasionally in pairs but never in herds. Musk deer are one of the few deer species that lacks antlers. Adults stand about 20 inches at the shoulder and are three feet long. Their coarse hair is usually grayish or yellowish brown.

Males have a pair of tusks that hang from the upper jaw outside the lips. They are used in fighting. Males also have a small gland under a layer of skin in their abdomen that produces musk, a waxy secretion that is used in perfumes, Asian folk medicines and aphrodisiacs. It is believed that the male musk deer uses the gland to attract females because it only functions during the month-long mating season, when, not by coincidently, the animal is hunted.

Musk deer were once poached to near extinction. There numbers have fallen to 50,000 from 500,000 in the not too distant past. In China, musk deer have been raised in captivity since the late 1950s. There are currently about 1,800 musk deer in captivity. Over the years these deer have been weakened by inbreeding and are prone to illness.

Pere David's Deer

Native to China, the Pere David's deer is large brown 500-pound deer named after the French missionary who first described them---as well as giant pandas---to Europeans in 1865. According to Chinese folklore the animals were harnessed to heavenly chariots of some Chinese gods and the appearance of a pure white Pére David's deer foretold great events. It is said that pregnant women who looked at the deer risk giving birth to four-eyed children. Among Chinese nobility the deer was considered second only to the bear as the animal of choice among of hunters, which explains they they hung on in deer parks long after they ceased to exist in the wild. [Source: Nigel Sitwell, Smithsonian, June 1986]

The last native herd of Pere David's deer was kept in the Imperial Hunting Park, a walled-in 144-square-mile royal preserve located a few miles outside of central Beijing. The deer were dealt a severe blow in 1894 when the walls of the Imperial Hunting Park were breached by a severe flood and many deer escaped into the surrounding countryside, where they were killed by starving peasants. Six years later, foreign troops shot the remainder during the bloody Boxer Rebellion.

Fortunately a few of the deer were sold to European zoos before they were wiped out in China, and the zoos in turn sold 18 of them to the 11th Duke of Bedford, who raised the animals within a 13 mile wall on his 3,000-acre estate in southern England. By the late 1980s the duke' herd had grown large enough so that the deer could be reintroduced into China. A herd reintroduced to the 250-acre Nan Haizu Milu Park on the southwestern part of the Imperial Hunting Park grew from 20 to 55 animals in ten years. Another herd near Shanghai expanded from 39 to 50 animals. There are more than 1,500 Pére David deer worldwide, and about 600 of them live on the Duke of Bedford's estate. [National Geographic Geographica, March 1989].

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Prezwalski horses

Wild Bactrian Camels

There are fewer than 900 wild Bactrian camels remaining in the wild. They live in three small populations: 1) one on the Mongolian-China border; 2) far western China; and 3) in the Kum Tagh desert. They are threatened by poaching, wolves and illegal mining. Some illegal miners have placed explosives at water holes to blow up camels.

Ancestors of the domestic camel, wild Bactrian camels are slimmer and less wooly and have smaller conical humps than domesticated Bactrian camels. They stand 172 centimeters at the shoulder. Males weigh 600 kilograms and females weigh 450 kilograms. They eat grasses, leaves and shrubs.

Wild Bactrian camels live on the arid plains, hills and desert in Mongolia and China. They can survive on shrubby plants and no water for 10 days. They follow migratory paths across the desert to oasis and feed in tall grasses.

Female Bactrian camels travel in small groups with six to 20 members. Males are often solitary but will unite with a female group in the mating season if strong enough to fend off rivals. During the rutting season males puff out their cheeks, toss their heads, slobber and grind their teeth. Mother Bactrian camels give birth alone. The gestation period is 13 months. Usually one calf, sometimes two, are born. Young can walk almost immediately. After about a month of seclusion mother and young join the group with other females. Young nurse for one to two years.

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Bactrian camel
Bactrian camels are camels with two humps and two coats of hair. Widely domesticated and capable of carrying 600 pounds, they are native to Central Asia, where a few wild ones still live, and stand six feet at the hump, can weigh half a ton and seem no worse for wear when temperatures drop to -20̊F. The fact they can endure extreme hot and cold and travel long periods of time without water have made them ideal caravan animals.

Bactrian camels can go a week without water and a month without food. A thirsty camel can drink 25 to 30 gallons of water at one go. For protection against sandstorms, Bactrian camels have two sets of eyelids and eyelashes. The extra eyelids can wipe sand like windshield wipers. Their nostrils that can shrink to a narrow slit to keep out blowing sand. Bactrian camels slobber a lot when they get horny or fight.

The humps store energy in the form of fat and can reach a height of 18 inches and individually hold as much as 100 pounds. A camel can survive for weeks without food by drawing on the fat from the humps for energy. The humps shrink, go flaccid and droop when a camel doesn’t get enough to eat and it loses the fat in the humps that keeps them erect.

Camels move at about five kilometer per hour and produce five kilograms of wool, 600 liters of milk, and 250 kilograms of dung a year. In the winter they sometimes die because they are unable to scrape away snow from the grass and plants they eat. A Bactrian camel lived to be 36 in Britain. One of that age was still living in a Yokohama zoo in Japan in 2011.

Camel Reserve at Lop Nor

In 1998, the Chinese government announced that a 42,000-square-mile sanctuary would be set up at Lop Nor nuclear testing sight in Xinjiang Province for rare wild Bactrian camels. About 400 camels live in the area, which supports few other animals.

There is no fresh water in the area. The camels have adapted to drinking salt water from salt springs and they eat dry grass and tamarisks that grow around the springs. There is little vegetation or animals, not even birds, which is why it was selected as an area to test 45 nuclear devices, which were detonated underground between 1964 and 1996.

Wild Boars in China

In Zhejiang Province, wild boar numbers increased from 29,000 to 150,000 between 2000 and 2010. To keep them from destroying crops and moving into farmland and residential areas farmers make as much noise as possible to scare them away, using vuvuzelas, gongs, karaoke machines, firecrackers and bombs, in addition to electric fences and traps. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, September 13, 2010]

Hungry boars have moved from their mountain forest homes to forage in farmland and the residential suburbs of Hangzhou. Local officials in Zhejiang say the animal population has increased fivefold in over 10 years because villagers---their main predator---are moving into the cities and gun licences have been restricted as part of the security arrangements for the Shanghai Expo.

“The growing wild boar population is now a disaster to our village and neighboring ones. We knock on gongs, explode firecrackers and even use bombs, but there are just so many,” one villager told Xinhua. Local media have been filled with warnings of the impact on crops and other species. Corn yields in the worst affected area are expected to fall by one-third because so many plants have been trampled upon.

Neighboring Jiangxi province reported a similar problem and issued 7,200 hunting licenses to cull the boar population. In Zhejiang, this has been difficult because the province borders Shanghai, which impoed gun control laws for the Expo in 2010.

Snakes in China

The sharp-nosed pit viper (one hundred pace snake) reaches lengths of five feet. Found in southern Vietnam, Taiwan and China, it is the most toxic of the Asian pit vipers. A bite causes immediate swelling, tissue damage and internal bleeding and may be fatal. There is an antivenin.

In an attempt to break a "Guinness Book of World Records" record that no longer exists, two 23-year-old Chinese girls spent 12 days in a room with 888 snakes (8 is a lucky number) in 1995. The stunt was sponsored by the Flying Dragon Amusement Park and Snake Center, and the two girls were chosen because they passed tests which included sleeping with, swimming with, and kissing snakes. Among the snakes were 666 cobras.

During their 12 days with the snakes in the 320-square-foot enclosure, the girls jumped rope with long snakes, swallowed and regurgitated small ones and laid under dozens of heavy boas. Their main problem, the girls said, was keeping the 666 cobras from attacking the 222 non-poisonous snakes. "The cobras always wanted to fight with the non-poisonous ones, and sometimes they would try to bite us," one of the girls said. One 150 snakes died from cobra attacks and around 800 snakes had to be replaced over the 12 day period. One of the women survived two cobra bites. In one case her knee swelled up like a grapefruit after being bitten in her sleep. In both cases the girl was able to treat herself with anti-venom and continue the stunt.

Mice Attack in China

In the summer of 2007, the combination of a long drought followed by floods produced an infestation of mice around Dongting Lake in Hunan Province that destroyed thousands of acres of crops and damaging important dikes by burrowed through them to reach crops. By some estimated 2 billion eastern field mice---known locally as rats---overran 22 counties around the lake. .

The were reports of houses in Hunan being inundated with mice driven from their holes by flood waters. A farmer woke up one morning to find his fields destroyed by mice told the Washington Post, “You can hear them as they bite the rice---chir, chir chir. It’s deafening.” Another said, “You can easily step on them just by walking on the road, the are so many.”

A massive mice cull was conducted and people were put on the alert for rodent-caused disease. Efforts to poison them worked to some degrees by also killed cats, dogs, cows, chickens and pigs. Television footage showed residents of Yoyang city beating mice to death with clubs and shovels. Others were caught with fishing nets and drowned and poisoned. Over a five week period 2.3 million mice---90 tons of them---were killed. . Most were buried in deep pits under layers of lime o prevent the spread of disease.

A drought that lasted through much of the fall, winter and spring, reduced the water levels in Lake Dongting Lake around the cities of Bianhu and Yueyand in Hunan, producing condition ideal for mice breeding. When the gates of the sluice on Three Gorges Dam were opened to relieve flooding water from the Yangtze poured into the lake, causing the mice to flee for high ground. Witnesses said the scene was like a movie about the Apocalypse.

Overpopulations of mice are also being blamed on the harvesting of snakes for food. Snakes can consume up to 400 mice year. To prevent a rat infestation in the future around Dongting Lake there is some discussion of erecting a 40-kilometer-long, one meter-high wall to keep the rats out. Environmentalists say human activity, namely those that have led to a decrease in natural enemies of rats such as snakes and owls, around the lake is the primary cause of the rat problem.

Insects in China

Buildings in Chinese cities are being threatened by termites that eat reinforced concrete. According to experts from the Termite Prevention and Control Research Institute in southwestern Sichuan province the insects also damage wires and cables made from copper, iron and aluminum.

The Kangba Plateau in Gansu is famous for its basketball-size balls of worms. The worms cling together on the grassland so they can be pushed by the wind to a nearby river. They also form balls when they have eaten all the grass in one area and have to move on.

A Chinese scientist claims to have found the world's largest butterfly or moth, a giant atlas moth with a total wingspan of 26 centimeters on Mt. Hanshan in Zhuang Autonomous region in Guangxi Province in southern China.

Attacks by wasps killed at least 10 farmers and frightened many others in Shaanxi Province in the autumn of 2005. Some died from stings because they could not afford medical treatment. Some farmers were so afraid of attacks they left their crops unharvested. It was unclear what was behind the attacks. Some blamed reforestation projects that created more trees for wasps to build their nests in.

Image Sources: 1) Kostich; 2) Wild Alliance; 3) AAPA; 4) Tooter for Kids; 5, 6) China Alligator Fund; 7) Blogspot; 8, 9) China Science Academy; 10 Environmental News11) CNTO

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated December 2012


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