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August 22, 2011

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Rare animals provide rare treats

THOSE with a taste for adventure and rare animals can see endangered Tibetan antelope begin their annual migration this month, as well as migratory birds, giant pandas, golden monkeys and other protected species.

Rare treats are in store for those who venture to see China's rare animals, and August is the perfect time to witness the awesome migration of Tibetan antelope on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau.

The plateau and Qinghai Lake are also home to thousands of migratory birds. They will begin leaving in September when the weather gets cold.

Less demanding are trips to Sichuan Province to see the giant pandas and to Shaanxi Province to see golden monkeys.

In all cases, the scenery is spectacular.

Roly-poly pandas

Wolong National Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province

After watching the two "Kung Fu Panda" films, the place to the genuine endangered animal, the famous Wolong National Nature Reserve in spectacularly beautiful Sichuan Province, becomes a hot destination again.

China's No. 1 living national treasure is roly-poly and clumsy but almost unbearably cute with a circle of black fur around its eyes, black ears, black chest and black arms and legs, contrasting with a white body.

The Wolong reserve is one of 13 giant panda nature reserves supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In 1978 the first giant panda observation station was established there, and the center itself was set up in 1963 in mixed forests with plenty of bamboo, the panda's favorite food.

More than 200 pandas live there in the wild, including 97 that were bred there and are five years old or older. They mostly sit around or roll on the ground and eat bamboo. Males can weigh 50 kilograms, females 125. The lifespan is 20-30 years.

The reserve covers 200,000 hectares.

Visitors can "adopt" their own panda, by donating to a panda protection program. They can even name their panda.

The reserve is in Wenchuan County, hard-hit by the 2008 earthquake. Most of the county's 5,300 residents are Tibetan and Qian ethnic minority people.

The wildlife reserve encompasses around 100 mountains and contains some virgin forest, streams and water falls. The highest peak is Four Girls Mountain (Siguniang Mountain), 6,250 meters above sea level.

More than 2,200 animals - four-footed, six-footed and those without feet - live there. Plant and animal specimens can be seen in an exhibition hall.

Admission: 10 yuan per person (with an extra 8 yuan you can visit the Panda House)

How to get there: Direct flight from Shanghai to Chengdu takes about two and half hours. From the capital city, a shuttle bus leaves for the reserve at 6:40am daily from the Chengdu Bus Station.

Shuttle bus ticket: 40 yuan per person.

Minibuses can be rented at 700 yuan per day for 7 seats; more for larger vehicles.

Golden monkeys

Zhouzhi National Nature Reserve, Shaanxi Province

Golden monkeys are the prime attraction, but there are also giant pandas, takin (a large goat-antelope), and various other animals and birds.

The golden monkeys are quite athletic, highly intelligent and their antics are hilarious. They often draw crowds of tourists to the forested reserve at the foothills of the Qingling Mountains. Human and primate interaction is fascinating.

However charming they are, monkeys do bite and are wild animals, so visitors should be careful.

The reserve, at an elevation of 1,500 meters, contains 14 troops of golden monkeys and a total population of 1,500 primates.

Feeding hour is from 11am to 12pm. Visitors watch the monkeys coming from various parts of the forest to be fed by animal protection staff who throw fresh fruit to them.

Feeding time is good time to get closer to the monkeys but visitors should be quiet; monkeys don't like to be bothered while they eat. This is a good time to take pictures of monkeys playing, eating and fighting over food.

The reserve contains 46 kinds of rare animals and more than 1,000 varieties of trees and plants.

The 59,400-hectare reserve was set up in 1987.

Hours: 8am-5:30pm

Admission: 10 yuan

How to get there: Take daily flight from Shanghai to Xi'an (two and a half hours) where a bus to Zhouzhi County takes another an hour.

Tibetan antelope

Kekexili (Hoh Xil) National Nature Reserve, Qinghai Province

August is a magical month when Tibetan antelope migrate.

The endangered species mate in December, and in June the following year they starting migrating to places like Kekexili Lake and Taiyang (Sun) Lake. One month after calves are born, the animals migrate back to their original habitat. This awesome and mysterious migration begins at the end of July.

However, visitors are not allowed to photograph the migration. Only 1,000 tourists are permitted each year and each group is restricted to 15 people or less. Medical certificates are required because of the elevation and possible altitude. Those with high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems are not allowed to visit. Everyone must present a medical certificate.

Kekexili National Nature Reserve, more than 4,600 meters above sea level, is virgin land that is highly protected. It's in northwest Qinghai, bordering Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet Autonomous Region. It features 46 protected species, with 18 typical to Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and is also home to yaks, brown bears, lynx, foxes and other animals.

Because of the harsh conditions, Kekexili is even now still a no man's land. In Mongolian, kekexili means "blue-green mountains."

The best season to visit is between July and August, but conditions are rugged and there are storms and strong wind.

Visits take at least six days. Experienced guides are essential.

Hours: 8am-5pm

Admission: 10 yuan

How to get there: Fly to Xining, the capital city, in about four hours and transfer to Haixi Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture, which is more than 600 kilometers away.

Where to go in Shanghai

Although Shanghai Wild Animal Park is quite far from downtown, many people visit the scenic spot every weekend, not only to enjoy the animals, but also to appreciate the trees and flowers in bloom.

The park features more than 10,000 animals in 200 species. They include giant pandas, golden monkeys, South China Tigers and Asian elephants.

The park contains bus routes and walking routes through various zones, including an herbivore zone, aquatic bird lake, monkey park, rare animal park, animal performance zone and sea lion performance area.

One of the biggest attractions is feeding carnivores, such as lions and tigers. Visitors can buy live chickens and feed the animals from a secure bus with heavy protective wire.

There are many other places for interaction with animals and animal performances. In some areas visitors stroll among peacocks and other animals. Children can enjoy a petting zone with small tame animals.

Address: 178 Nanliu Rd, Pudong

Admission: 120 yuan per person

How to get there: Take Sightseeing Bus No. 2 at Shanghai Stadium.

Migratory birds

Qinghai Lake National Nature Reserve, Qinghai Province

Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds spend the winter around spectacular Qinghai Lake, China's largest inland salt water lake with huge wetlands on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

The scenery is spectacular, including mountains, meadows and semi-desert, and it draws hikers and campers, sailors and fishermen, botanists and other adventurers, as well as bird watchers.

The blue-water bird sanctuary contains five islands where birds make their home. Observation towers have been built on the islands, all providing spectacular views.

The best bird-watching period is from May to August. Birds start leaving in September when it gets cold.

More than 200 species of birds, including rare ones, can be found. There are geese, cormorants, big swans and gulls,

Admission: 50 yuan

How to get there: Daily flight (about four hours) leaves from Shanghai for Xining, where you can take a bus to the lake (200 kilometers away). Bicycles can be rented in Xihai Town.


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