20080318-clouded leapard Kostich.jpg
Clouded leopard
Of the 640 internationally listed endangered species, 156 of them are in China. The nations with the most threatened species include: 1) Indonesia (128 mammal and 104 bird species); 2) Brazil (71 mammal and 103 bird species); 3) China (75 mammal and 90 bird species); 4) India (75 mammal and 73 bird species); 5) The Philippines (49 mammal and 86 bird species); 6) Peru (46 mammal and 64 bird species); 7) Mexico (64 mammal species); 8) Columbia (64 bird species); 9) Australia (58 mammal species); 10) Papua New Guinea (57 mammal species); 11) Ecuador (53 bird species); 12) Madagascar (46 mammal species); 13) the U.S. (50 bird species); 14) Vietnam (47 bird species).

The mountains of southwest China were declared a Biodiversity Hot Spot in 2005. This area is rich in unique wildlife and plant life but is also threatened by the encroachment of people. More than 3,500 plant species are unique to the south-central Chinese mountains. In recent years China has established more nature reserves than any other country but the reserves are poorly policed and poaching and illegal logging remains a problem.

Bags and apparel made of exotic skins are big sellers in China. In 2006 and 2007, authorities seized 104 furs of rare animals, including 27 snow leopard pelts, and furs of clouded leopard, lynx and bears, from a fur dealer in Gansu Province who purchased the furs in Qinghai Province and Tibet. It was the largest seizure of snow leopard pelts since records were kept on such matters beginning in 1949.

The Chinese government planned to hold an auction in 2006 in which foreign hunting organizations could bid for licences to hunt 14 of species wild animals with bidding starting at $200 for a wolf and $40,000 for a wild yak. Once word got out on the Internet criticism rose to a howl and the auction was put on hold.

Biodiversity Hotspot: Mountains of Southwest China

With dramatic variations in climate and topography, the Mountains of Southwest China support a wide array of habitats including the most endemic-rich temperate flora in the world. The golden monkey, giant panda, red panda, and a number of pheasants are among the threatened species endemic to this hotspot. Illegal hunting, overgrazing and firewood collection are some of the primary threats to biodiversity in this region. The construction of the largest dam in history, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, has already and will continue to heavily threaten the biodiversity of this region.[Source: Conservation International Biodiversity Hotspot]

VITAL SIGNS: 1) Hotspot Original Extent (km²) 262,446; 2) Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²) 20,996; 3) Endemic Plant Species 3,500; 4) Endemic Threatened Birds 2; 5) Endemic Threatened Mammals 3; 6) Endemic Threatened Amphibians 3; 7) Extinct Species: 0; 8) Human Population Density (people/km²) 32; 9) “Area Protected (km²) 14,034; 10) Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV*;4,273, Recorded extinctions since 1500. *Categories I-IV afford higher levels of protection.

The Mountains of Southwest China Hotspot stretches over 262,400 km² of temperate to alpine mountains between the easternmost edge of the Tibetan Plateau and the Central Chinese Plain. It lies to the north of the Indo-Burma Hotspot, and to the immediate east of the Himalaya Hotspot, and is bounded in the northwest by the dry Tibetan Plateau, in the north by the Tao River of southern Gansu, and in the east by the Sichuan Basin and the plateau of eastern Yunnan.

The Mountains of Southwest China are characterized by extremely complex topography, ranging from less than 2,000 meters in some valley floors to 7,558 meters at the summit of Gongga Shan (Mountain). The mountain ridges are oriented in a generally north-south direction, perpendicular to the main Himalayan chain. The region includes the Hengduan, Gaoligong, and Nu Shan of western Yunnan; the Nyainqentanglha, Ningjing, Taniantaweng Shan, and others at the southeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau; the Shaluli, Daxue (including Gongga Shan), Chola, and Qionglai Shan systems of Sichuan; and the Min Shan on the Sichuan-Gansu border. The Ailao Shan and Wuliang Shan of central Yunnan are not part of this hotspot (both are included in the Indo-Burma Hotspot).

The Mountains of Southwest China feed the most species-rich temperate and tropical river systems in Asia. Major river systems that traverse or originate in the hotspot include the Jingshajiang, Yalongjiang, Daduhe, and Minjiang, all branches of the Yangtze River, which empties in the East China Sea. The Lancangjiang (Mekong River), passes through Yunnan Province, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam on its way to the South China Sea. The Nujiang reaches the Indian Ocean through Yunnan Province and Burma.

The complex topography results in a wide range of climatic conditions. Temperatures range from frost-free throughout the year in parts of Yunnan and short, frost-free periods at the northern boundary of the region, to permanent glaciers on the high mountain peaks of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Xizang. Annual average rainfall in the region exceeds 1,000 millimeters on southwestern slopes at higher altitudes in Yunnan, while areas of the northwestern part of the region, in the rainshadow of the Tibetan Plateau, rarely receive more than 400 millimeters annually. Climatic and topographic conditions result in a wide variety of vegetation types across the hotspot, including broad-leaved and coniferous forests, bamboo groves, scrub communities, savanna, meadow, prairie, freshwater wetlands, and alpine scrub and scree communities.

Biodiversity Hotspot: Himalayas

The Himalaya Hotspot is home to the world’s highest mountains, including Mt. Everest. The mountains rise abruptly, resulting in a diversity of ecosystems that range from alluvial grasslands and subtropical broadleaf forests to alpine meadows above the tree line. Vascular plants have even been recorded at more than 6,000 meters. The hotspot is home to important populations of numerous large birds and mammals, including vultures, tigers, elephants, rhinos and wild water buffalo.

VITAL SIGNS: 1) Hotspot Original Extent (km²) 741,706; 2) Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²) 185,427; 3) Endemic Plant Species 3,160; 4) Endemic Threatened Birds 8; 5) Endemic Threatened Mammals 4; 6) Endemic Threatened Amphibians 4; 7) Extinct Species: 0; 8) Human Population Density (people/km²) 123; 9) Area Protected (km²) 112,578; 10) Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV* 77,739. “Recorded extinctions since 1500. *Categories I-IV afford higher levels of protection.

Stretching in an arc over 3,000 kilometers of northern Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and the northwestern and northeastern states of India, the Himalaya hotspot includes all of the world’s mountain peaks higher than 8,000 meters. This includes the world’s highest mountain, Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) as well as several of the world’s deepest river gorges.

This immense mountain range, which covers nearly 750,000 km², has been divided into two regions: the Eastern Himalaya, which covers parts of Nepal, Bhutan, the northeast Indian states of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, southeast Tibet (China), and northern Myanmar; and the Western Himalaya, covering the Kumaon-Garhwal, northwest Kashmir, and northern Pakistan. While these divisions are largely artificial, the deep defile carved by the antecedent Kali Gandaki River between the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains has been an effective dispersal barrier to many species.

The abrupt rise of the Himalayan Mountains from less than 500 meters to more than 8,000 meters results in a diversity of ecosystems that range, in only a couple of hundred kilometers, from alluvial grasslands (among the tallest in the world) and subtropical broadleaf forests along the foothills to temperate broadleaf forests in the mid hills, mixed conifer and conifer forests in the higher hills, and alpine meadows above the treeline.

Chinese Wildlife Protection Plan

In October 2010, Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian, “China unveiled its most ambitious conservation plan in a generation, ahead of the opening of a crucial in biodiversity conference. Foreign supporters say the move will put China at the forefront of global efforts to reverse habitat and species decline. But critics have warned that the good intentions, as with many of the proposals at the conference are likely to be outweighed by economic interests. They also allege the plans are so domestically focused they will do little to halt the over-consumption and illegal trade of scarce species. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, October 18, 2010]

“China's biodiversity action plan designates 52 priority conservation areas, covering 23 percent of the country; it promises state funds for protection; and sets a target of controlling biodiversity loss by 2020. Sichuan, has been the first province to put the plan into action. It has set aside about 930 million yuan ($150 million) and identified five ecological protection areas: one links to existing giant panda reserves, another restores an area damaged by industry, two conserve semi-tropical flora and fauna, and another offsets the impact of dams. The national plan, which builds on China's existing 2,500 nature reserves, has been praised by foreign conservationists.”

"These are solid commitments. If China can implement this plan systematically, then they will be managing better than any other country," said Matthew Durnin, lead scientist in north Asia for the US group Nature Conservancy, which has advised the drafters of the new strategy. Ouyang Zhiyun, vice president of the Ecological Society of China, said moves were also afoot to revise wildlife protection laws and ramp up "ecological transfer funds" that reward counties for safeguarding areas that sequester carbon, conserve soil and biodiversity. This year the government has budgeted 30bn yuan for such environmental service payments, up from 12bn yuan last year. Gretchen Daily, associate professor at Stanford University, claimed China went further than any other country in embedding "natural capital" into decision making.”

“But some conservationists have warned that poor enforcement often undermines such initiatives. "Sometimes the laws are not well implemented so the destruction goes unpunished," said Yan Xie, of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "China has done a great deal, but we cannot be optimistic about biodiversity conservation while the underlying problems remain of habitat loss, pollution, overuse of pesticides and over consumption."

Invading Animals in China

Alien species found in China include non-native pets such as fish, turtles, mice. The red-eared slider turtle has driven out many native species. Piranhas have been found in a couple of Chinese waterways.

The American vegetable leaf miner is an insect first spotted in Hainan Province in 1983. It is now found in every province except Tibet and causes $80 million worth of damage to crops every year. The fall webworm has defoliated more than 200 plant species in Beijing alone.

Invaders from China causing trouble include the Chinese longhorn beetles that probably hitched a ride in the timber of shipping pallets or containers is threatening North American forests. The insects first appeared in Brooklyn and from there spread to Central Park in Manhattan then Chicago and then around the United States.

Darryl Fears wrote in the Washington Post, “Brown marmorated stink bugs native to China were first discovered in Allentown, Pa., in 1998, likely after crawling out of a cargo ship. So far, the pest has been detected or established in 36 states. Detected means that they’ve been observed and confirmed through lab testing, as opposed to established, which means that they have slipped into homes by the hundreds and ravaged food crops by the thousands. [Source: Darryl Fears, Washington Post , March 16 2012]

In the Mid-Atlantic region, where brown marmorated stink bugs are well established, they caused an estimated $37 million in damage in apple crops alone in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. Some farmers in Maryland said they ruined a third of their peach crop and half of their raspberries last year. That’s nothing compared with what the warmth-loving bug might do in Florida, said Douglas G. Luster, research leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. “It could be like the atomic bomb going off,” he said, implying that the population might explode.

In 2011 and 2012 bugs were detected in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, where farmers grow juicy vegetable and citrus crops the bugs are known to destroy. “There is great fear that if the brown marmorated stink bug gets established in Florida, it will do a lot of damage,” Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said. Florida is testing a non-stinging parasitic wasp from Asia, a natural stink bug predator that entomologists might unleash in October, if necessary, Feiber said. The USDA Agricultural Research Center has tested for more than a year a similar wasp that preys on stink bug eggs but has delayed its release for fear that it, too, could become an invasive pest.

Brown marmorated stink bugs, which, like kudzu bugs, give off a foul bittersweet odor like rotten cilantro when threatened. Tracy Leskey, a research entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said entomologists can’t stop stink bugs, but they can slow them down. The USDA research program and its academic partners received a $5.7 million grant, allowing them to watch the bugs’ every move. So far they’ve learned that males emit a scent that attracts both sexes, a possible signal that they’ve found food or they want to mate. Entomologist want to use that to trap them, or “attract and kill,” as she put it. Entomologists have found stink bugs in woods, in dead trees, under vegetation, “dispersed across the landscape,” Leskey said. “We have to think about a landscape-level solution.”

Attacks by Arrowfish, Monkeys and Killer Hornets in China

In June 2000, The Telegraph reported: “A Chinese fisherman was killed by a two-foot long arrowfish when it leapt from the sea and struck his abdomen, skewering his lungs with its pointed head. The young man, from the south-eastern province of Fujian, was fishing with a lamp from a small boat when the green fish, which has sharp spines and a long, sword-like "beak", shot out of the water. An official from the Aquatic Administration Bureau of Dongshan county said the fish might have been frightened by the lamp.” [Source: David Rennie, The Telegraph, June 27, 2000]

In November 2000, The Telegraph reported: “Chinese troops are fighting killer hornets with flame-throwers in Jiepai, Sichuan province, after an eight-year-old boy was stung to death. An estimated one billion hornets are in the town. [Source: David Rennie, The Telegraph, November 4, 2000]

In June 2003, AP reported: “Four monkeys escaped from a zoo in northeastern China and attacked a woman and her baby before three of the animals were shot to death by police, the official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday. The three adult monkeys and one baby escaped Monday from a zoo in Changtu county in Liaoning province, Xinhua said. It did not say what species they were. The monkeys took refuge in a grove of trees and resisted attempts to recapture them, the report said. "One of the monkeys pounced on a woman holding a child, biting her arm before leaping back into the tree," Xinhua said. It said police shot the adult monkeys "to prevent further attacks." The baby monkey escaped and is still at large, Xinhua said.- Monkeys from Chinese zoo attack woman and baby, are killed by police. [Source: AP, June 25, 2003]

Attacks by Mysterious Animal in Shandong Kills Two and Injures Seven

In March 2012, CNTV reported: “In east China's Shandong Province, there has been a stunning and sudden increase in the number of cases of people being killed or hurt by wild animals. A 5-year-old boy was hospitalized after being bitten by an animal that has been described as wolf-like. Of the seven attacks in Zaozhuang city, 2 people have died with another 5 injured. [Source: Shi Wenjing, CNTV, March 26, 2012]

Police claim they have caught a wolf, but one netizen thinks otherwise. A petowner named Wang holds that the animal police captured in Zaozhuang city is his lost, 5 year old female husky. But amid the confusion and a case of mistaken identity, people continue to be attacked by an unidentified wild animal.

A one-year old boy in Mengyin county in Linyi city is the latest case. The grandmther of the wounded boy said, "My grandson was bitten when he was playing outside. It was a black-colored animal, with a long tail. I threw stones at the animal to chase it away." The boy is currently recovering in hospital. Area residents have said that five dogs have either been killed or injured by the animal, who has wreaked havoc in the area.

Li Shunhai, doctor of Mengyin People's Hospital, said, "The boy probably was bitten by a large animal judging from the wound. It bit across his face and so we think its a canine." Local authorities are still debating whether the animal is a wolf, or a feral dog. But they are warning villagers to be on alert, especially the elderly and small children. A wolf killed by local police on Monday in Zaozhuang City proved to be not from the area.

Residents in Southwest Yunnan Insured Against Animal Attacks

In December 2011, Xinhua reported: “Residents who have suffered animal attacks in the southwestern region of Xishuangbanna this year will receive 9 million yuan ($1.43 million) in compensation from a government-funded insurance project, local authorities said Wednesday. This year's compensation more than doubled the 4 million yuan offered in 2010, as the government in Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture of Yunnan province paid more for insurance in 2011 to make sure it would cover all state-protected wild animals in the region, said Chen Yong, head of the prefecture's wild animal conservation station. [Source: Xinhua, December 28, 2011]

The insurer has already paid villagers 4.57 million yuan and it is still processing the rest of the claims, Chen said. Villagers in Xishuangbanna, a tropical region that harbors much of the biodiversity in China and is home to a quarter of the country's wild animal species, have long been bothered by wild animal attacks.

The prefecture reported more than 160,000 animal attacks between 1991 and 2010, in which 39 people were killed and another 187 injured. Villagers also lost 200 million kilograms of crops and over 5,157 heads of livestock in those attacks. "The attackers are usually wild elephants, venomous snakes and black bears. Their victims can be humans, crops or domestic animals," Chen said. Xishuangbanna is home to over 250 wild Asian elephants, about 90 percent of the country's total population of the endangered species.

The local government used to compensate villagers before it signed a contract with China Pacific Insurance Co in November 2009, allowing the private insurer to cover some of the villagers' losses. Through the insurance project, villagers can get more in compensation and the local government's workload lessens, said Chen. In 2010, year, insurance only covered incidents involving endangered Asian elephants, but it was extended to include all state-protected wild animals in 2011.

Fund to Help Victims of Animal Attacks in the Nagqu Area of Tibet

In September 2002, Xinhua reported: “Victims of wildlife attacks in the Shuanghu special zone of the Nagqu Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region should receive compensation from a special fund, local officials said. They called for the establishment of the fund as soon as possible to improve coexistence of the people and wildlife and protect rare animals at the Shuanghu zone, which was designated as a natural reserve in 1984. The zone covers 120,000 square kilometers with a population of only 9,000, which has become home to more than 50,000 wild yaks, over 100,000 heads of Tibetan antelopes and Mongolian gazelles, 30,000-40,000 wild asses and about 1,000 black bears. Among them, the Tibetan ass, or kiang, wild yaks and Tibetan antelopes are rare animals. [Source: Xinhua, Shanghai Daily, September 17, 2002]

The wild animals are well protected by local people under strict rules set by the authorities of the Tibet Autonomous Region. However, they pose a danger by often attacking inhabited areas, demolishing housing, devastating pastures and sometimes killing humans and livestock. According to rough statistics provided by local forest police, over the past nine years wildlife attacks have cost local herdsmen 1 million yuan (US$120,480) in loss, and left two people dead and 45 injured. Tibet boasts 18 natural reserves at the state and autonomous region levels, covering 330,000 square kilometers.

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 November 2012

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