In honour of Chinese New Year, we have put together a few of our favourite facts about Chinese animals.
1) The giant panda is endemic to China
The giant panda is now endemic to China, residing in southwest temperate forests in the mountain ranges. 80% of Chinese giant pandas live in Sichuan province due to the cool, misty climate and supply of bamboo.
Due to conservation efforts, the giant panda is no longer endangered and reclassified as vulnerable due to the increase in population size and habitat protection.
2) China is home to 490 species of reptile
China is ranked 10th in the world in diversity of reptiles by the Reptile Database. A study by Cai et al. in 2016 found that 137 of the 461 reptile species studied were threatened, with Crocodylia and Testudines species most at risk.
3) Guinness World Record Breaker
China is a Guinness World Record holder for the country with the most extensive domestic sheep population. It is home to 136 million Ovis aries sheep raised for meat and dairy.
4) Functionally extinct
The Chinese river dolphin is one of Earth’s most endangered animals and is considered to be functionally extinct due to the lack of sightings. The last confirmed photographic sighting was in 2002; however, occasional reports keep hope alive until more surveys are conducted.
5) Number 1 for amphibian biodiversity
China's amphibian diversity is greater than any other country in the Old World, with approx. 346 species of caecilians, frogs, newts, salamanders and toads. 67% of which are endemic!
6) Not only in America
Did you know China is the only country outside the Americas that alligators call home? The critically endangered Chinese alligator can be found in the lower Yangtze. Compared to its American counterpart, the Chinese alligator is smaller and has protective scales on their underside and back.
Once found throughout the middle-lower Yangtze River and along the river from Shanghai to Jianling City in the Hubei Province, now there is only 120 left in the wild, making it the most endangered crocodilian in existence! It is thought that populations will continue to decline due to habitat destruction and fragmentation.
7) Danger, Danger!
China is home to the most dangerous and largest member of the wasp family, the Asian Hornet. CNN reports that in 2013 42 people were killed, and 206 needed hospital treatment due to hornet attacks in the Shaanxi province. The Asian hornet can sting humans multiple times, releasing venom capable of dissolving flesh, causing kidney failure and anaphylaxis.
8) Home to the largest living amphibian
Another animal record breaker for China is the Chinese giant salamander! Growing to a whopping 6ft long and weighing 140lb, the Chinese giant salamander is endemic to the Yangtze. Until recently, it was thought there were only one species of Chinese giant salamander however, scientists are now reporting there could be up to six, all heading towards extinction.
9) Happy Insects
The ancient Chinese thought of spiders as lucky; many stories in folklore refer to them as happy insects (ximu). They are said to 'bring happiness in the morning and wealth in the evening'.
10) The Animals of the Zodiac
2023 is the year of the rabbit, but how did this originate? The Jade Emperor invited all of the animals in the world to participate in a race. It was decreed that the first 12 across the river would become zodiac members. The first animal across was the cheating rat, who tricked the ox into helping it across and sabotaged the race for the cat. The ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and boar followed the rat.