China has a rich biodiversity and has many endemic species, both flora and fauna. In fact, the number of species in China makes up one tenth of the total number in the world. But this biodiversity is under threat by China’s rapid development, as well as other factors, such as illegal poaching and trade in animal parts. Animals we’ve all come to know and love, like the tiger and the panda to name but two, now face extinction. China has taken a number of measures to protect endangered animals including the latest announcement that they will increase penalties for killing and consuming wild animals. But are these efforts enough to save the following ten animals endemic to China from extinction?
1) Hainan Black-crested Gibbon
Hainan Island has an especially booming and distinct eco system – however, many of its species are being threatened as a result of logging and the ever expanding tourist industry. The Hainan black-crested gibbon is one of these animals. It lives in broad-leaved forests and monsoon forests, and eats fruit, leaves and insects. At the moment, it is at grave risk of extinction and there are only believed to be 22 remaining according to the most recent count, with a total of 2000 found in the 1950s.
2) South China Tiger
The South China tiger is another animal nearing extinction – and is possibly already extinct in the wild. There is a very small chance that some are still around, as alleged photographs do exist. They are native to Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan and Jingxi in Southern China. The last confirmed recorded wild South China tiger was in the early 1970s.
Although tigers have been held in high regard throughout Chinese history, a belief that tiger bones possess powerful medicinal properties has contributed to their depleting numbers. Reports of illegal tiger killing are all too common in China, and it is not uncommon for “tiger research centers” to double up as illegal breeding centers to make tiger bone wine for Chinese medicine. According to a report by IFAW, many tiger research centers and zoos are conveniently located near wine distilleries – if it sounds like too much of a coincidence, it’s not.
3) Chinese Mountain Cat
The wild cat of Western China native to the highlands in the west of China (Tibet, Qinghai and Sichuan) is categorized as threatened, and it is also a less well known species. Photos of them were not taken until May of 2007. The main problem threatening their existence is the poisoning of pikas, which is their main prey, causing unintentional death of these feline creatures as well as directly diminishing their food supply.
The Baiji is a freshwater dolphin endemic to the Chinese Yangtze River, and is also nicknamed the goddess of the Yangtze in Chinese. Its population has declined drastically as a result of the past few decades of industrialization. In 2006, none were found in the river and the species was declared functionally extinct. This would make it the first recorded extinction of a well-studied cetacean species directly attributable to our influence. Its extinction is closely related to the pressure on the Yangtze River – along and within which approximately 12% of the worlds’ population works and lives. Surprisingly, a Baiji was allegedly spotted in August 2007 by a Chinese man, but the subjects of his photographs are not fully confirmed to be Baiji.
5) Chinese Sturgeon
Historically found throughout China, Japan and the Korean Peninsula, this fish has extirpated due to habitat loss and overfishing. The Chinese government now fiercely protects this animal, and has named it a national treasure alongside the giant panda. They are critically endangered, with only several hundred of these giants left (a fully grown male Chinese sturgeon can weigh up to 500 kg and reach 4 meters), but there are a few conservation programs running to save it, including a museum on Xiaoxita Island in the Huangbo River.
6) Sichuan Partridge
The Sichuan partridge is a small bird species living in temperate forests, mainly throughout Southern Sichuan. However, this bird is also threatened by habitat loss as a result of the lack of a logging ban prior to 1998. Following 1998, several conservation plans have created protected reserves which should theoretically allow for a stable Sichuan partridge population in the area.
7) Chinese Alligator
The Chinese alligator is native to eastern China and is very different from the American alligator. For a start, it is fully armored, including the belly. Originally the Chinese alligator was to be found throughout the country, but in the 1950s were only found in the southern area of the Yangtze River, the mountains of Southern Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.
This is a result of habitat loss, as their wetlands were turned into rice paddies. Right now, there are a few breeding centers in the area aimed at increasing their population, and even international institutions are running breeding programs aiming at reintroducing these alligators to the wild in China.
8) Mangshan Pitviper
The Mangshan Pitviper spits venom, which has been important in medical advances. For example, medicine derived from hemotoxins is used to treat heart attacks and blood disorders. The first medicine ever derived from snake venom was to treat high blood pressure. The snake is native to Hunan’s Mangshan Mountain and Guangdong – both in Southern China. They mainly occur within an area of only 300 square km, mainly as they are at risk of the international pet trade.
9) Yunnan Box Turtle
The Yunnan box turtle has been expected to be extinct since the early 20th century, as the last specimen was collected in 1940. However, in 2004, a female Yunnan box turtle was discovered through the pet trade in Kunming, and a year later a male came from the same source. The validity of the specimens have been doubted, as they are potentially intentionally produced hybrids. Later on in 2008, Kadoorie Conservation China discovered a small wild population, but protection measures are needed as these species are valuable and highly sought after, and thus extremely vulnerable to trade.
10) The Giant Panda
And finally – the giant panda – native to South and Central China and famous throughout the entire world. It has now become a symbol for China and has played an important role in its foreign policy in what is commonly known as panda diplomacy. In 2007, 239 were calculated to be living in captivity inside China, and 27 outside China. Calculations have estimated about 1590 to be living in the wild.
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Keywords: animals endemic to China animals near extinction in China
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