Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur) also called Bharal is commonly found in high mountain areas of Sichuan and Qinghai. Sometimes found in large herds of fifty plus animals it can be seen both on mountain pasture and on desolate scree slopes at altitudes over 5,000 metres. The pelage combination of steely grey, black and white makes for good camouflage against rocky backgrounds and animals are easily missed with initial scanning. Males have large curving horns and their size and shape makes it easy to identify mature rams from females and immature males. In the region, this species is important prey for Snow Leopard and a nervous flock is a good sign that a large predator may be on the prowl. In Qinghai it’s an ever-present species on crags and mountains in the west of the province, while in Sichuan it can be found of Balang Mountain and many upland sites that border the eastern edges of the Tibetan Plateau.
Dwarf Blue Sheep (Pseudois shaeferi), also known as Sichuan Blue Sheep or Bharal, is a rare and endangered species found in SW Sichuan. It is mainly identified from Blue Sheep by looking at horn shape in the males, which are thinner and less curved. Smaller size and slightly drabber colouration than Blue sheep are difficult to distinguish when they are not side by side and maybe the best pointer to identification is the location of sighting. This species is very range restricted, lives at slightly lower altitudes than Blue sheep and we only have found at a single site on the Yunnan/Sichuan border, one that is outside our normal trip routes. There is discussion over its full species status and DNA studies suggest it may just be a subspecies of Blue Sheep. In the region where we have found it there is evidence of hunting and persecution.
Argali (Ovis ammon) is found in Qinghai, especially around the Zhidio area. Distribution data also indicates it should be found on the Sichuan portion of the Tibetan Plateau. It is not a commonly found animal and historical records indicates a wider distribution that must have included mountain ranges that bordered the Sichuan Basin. They occupy the same habitat type as Blue Sheep, but don’t seem to adapt well to competition with domestic stock and increases in stocking levels of domestic stock may account for population declines. Horn shape makes this species easy to distinguish from Blue Sheep – even with long distance scoping. In recent years, a hunting reserve has been established in the Dulan area of Qinghai where Argali is a main quarry.
Tibetan Gazelle (Procapra picticaudata), also known as Goa, are locally common on the Tibetan Plateau grasslands. They can be found both in Sichuan and Qinghai and are usually seen in smaller loose herds of females and young. Males, outside the rutting season, are less sociable and often seen as singles. Their small size, white rump and sandy colouration make them easy to distinguish from female Blue Sheep and Alpine Musk Deer but care, with night-time sightings should be taken at some sites where Siberian Roe sometimes make excursions onto the grassland from bordering scrub and forest. Males, with their characteristic Gazelle type horns, are easy to identify and it is the shape of these horns that distinguish them from the similar, but very rare Przewalski’s Gazelle, that is found at just one site on the eastern site of Qinghai Lake. Goitered Gazelle is also found in the Eastern Qinghai but this species has a longer more distinctive black tail and the demarcation between flanks and white belly is far more pronounced. Although the Tibetan Gazelle is still widespread, high density stocking rates of domestic yak and sheep must have a negative impact on population numbers
Przewalski’s Gazelle (Procapra przewalskii) was formerly common throughout NW China but hunting and persecution from farmers have led to population shrinkage to a few hundred animals around Qinghai Lake. In an area on the lake’s eastern side they have been surprisingly easy to find and the animal can be studied from roadside vantage points. They are seen in small herds and the males are distinguished by distinctive shape/bends of their horns. Now strictly protected, and not suffering the former levels of persecution, they occupy flat areas of grassland that borders or is still in agricultural use. The animals have no problem crossing low fencing and now seem to be tolerated by the local farming community. A China endemic.
Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii), also know as Chiru, is a well-protected species found on the Tibetan Plateau. We commonly see it when driving into the western part of Qinghai around the Kekexili Plateau, which is a barren alpine habitat and one of the world’s largest areas of wilderness. Formerly the antelope was relentlessly hunted for its soft underfur which was prized and of great value in India for weaving into shawls, and Chinese demand, which came from the belief that it made the finest padding for winter clothing. Gangs of poachers had decimated the species but a film – Kekexili Mountain Patrol - depicting an armed struggle between a volunteer warden and hunters turned Chinese public opinion and today protection is highly intensified, with the antelope seemingly flourishing. It is a migratory species with specific winter, summer and calving grounds. When in the Budongquan area of Kekexili during big movements of this animal hundreds can be seen from the roadside. Otherwise we mainly see far smaller groups while scanning over suitable habitat. They share habitat with Tibetan Gazelle and at a distance, in a scope, females can look very similar but once you pick up males with their unique horns identification becomes obvious. A Tibetan Plateau endemic small numbers are also found in India.
Roadside Tibetan Antelopes - males on migration
Chinese Goral (Naemorhedus griseus) is a commonly recorded ungulate on our trips. Found at Labahe, Tangjiahe, the Wolong/Balang area and other alpine sites, its is mainly seen during night drives but crepuscular sightings are also made. A goat-antelope, it is a skilled climber and can often be seen in craggy habitats, alpine forest and in protected forested situations, like Labahe and Tangjiahe, well below the 2000m mark. Identification features of Chinese serow (night-time young serow at distance can pose a problem) include a distinctive white throat patch and the small ‘devil’ like horns. This is the only goral species on our normal travel routes – Himalayan Goral is found far to the west on the Indian border and Red Goral is a rare animal of SW Yunnan and adjacent Tibet.
Chinese Serow (Capricornis milneedwardsi), also known as Mainland Serow, is another goat-antelope species that we find at a number of Sichuan sites. Noticeably larger than goral it can also be distinguished by darker colouration, different horn shape, a white on lower jaw/chin, and most distinctively, a horse like mane that on adults is long , silvery-white coloured and gives rise to another alternative common name; White-maned Serow. Usually seen singly, we regularly find at Labahe and Tangjiahe but also at alpine sites like Baxi.
A Chinese serow in alpine habitat - here the distinctive white mane is well illustrated.
Takin (Budorcas taxicolor) is a large and distinctive goat-antelope that we mainly see at Tangjiahe. It is bovine like and was formerly thought to be closely related to Muskox but has now been placed closer to sheep. There are four subspecies and the race we see at Tangjiahe is Sichuan Takin – the takin in bordering Shaanxi are the Golden. Although most grazing activity is nocturnal, when herds descend from high forest/grassland habitat to lower pastures, singles and small groups are also commonly seen in the same habitat during daylight hours, especially during late autumn and winter. The Takin is also unusual in not having localized scent glands, instead pungent smelling secretions are discharged over the whole body and the presence animals can also be detected by their strong odour. Through its size and horns it can be a dangerous animal and, if approached too closely, will charge. This can be a problem in steep terrain, especially in misty conditions. We see in large numbers at Tangjiahe, where they can be spotted from roadside vantage points. However, during summer months they are less visible on lower pasture and scanning open areas on upper slopes, especially close to dawn and dusk, may bring the best results. Other sites where we see less regularly include Labahe and Wolong.
Tufted Deer (Elaphodus cephalophus) is a small dark coloured deer that is found at many Sichuan sites – most easily being seen during winter months. Like muntjacs and the musk deer it has fangs, but the most notable identification features are the dark brown coat that contrasts sharply with white rump patch, white fringed ears and white muzzle areas. It has a tufted cap of dark fur but, like the fangs, this is not readily noticeable unless you get close views. Mostly seen singly, Tangjiahe is a good site to find this animal. However, we have seen several times at Baxi and Wolong where scanning distant hillside pasture can be effective. These daylight views are mostly crepuscular but also seen on night drives.
Reeve’s Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) is the same animal that has been introduced to the UK and is commonly seen in Southern England. It is locally common in Sichuan and especially numerous at Tangjiahe – at other sites we can struggle to see this species. Its small size and rufous colouration are obvious identification characteristics, but time can still be spent separating it from rarer species when seen at distance in the night. Sometimes size is not always easy to judge and muntjacs can appear much larger when in the beam of a spotlight, especially when sitting, partly hidden, in a clump of vegetation. If not introduced to so many countries this species would be an endemic to China.
Forest Musk Deer (Moschus berezovskii), also known as Dwarf Musk Deer, is an endangered species that has been hunted to rarity level for it scent glands, which are used to produce perfume. Our few records of this species mostly come from Labahe but have also seen at Tangjiahe. A small deer, in the field, it is mainly distinguished by its grey coat, light coloured throat and characteristic large ears and long neck that gives the impression of a kangaroo’s head attached to a deer’s body. It has fangs but these are only readily seen with good views or through photos. The tracks are easy to recognize, since the hoof print also shows two dew claws which are unique to this species.
Alpine Musk Deer (Moschus chrysogaster), has also suffered population declines because of poaching. However, a species of high alpine pasture, in parts of its Qinghai range, it is still locally common and can be seen found during daylight hours.
Sambar (Rusa unicolor), is the common large deer in Giant Panda habitat on the Hengduan Mountains. At Labahe it is almost abundant, and during evening/night-time animals are attracted to tourist viewing areas using salt licks. Mostly nocturnal/diurnal – they rarely seen during daytime hours.
White-lipped Deer (Cervus albirostris), a large species, where stags display a huge set of antlers, it is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. We find in Qinghai and the border area of Sichuan/Yunnan around Shiqu. The white muzzle and general shape/size of this animal make it easy to identify – herds can be seen during daytime hours.
Sichuan Deer (Cervus macneilli), is also known as MacNeill’s Deer. Some authorities give it full species status, while others keep as a subspecies to either Red Deer or Wapiti. A large deer, it looks like a dull version of Red Deer and we mostly find it in Qinghai, in the Yushu area, where it grazes on alpine pasture/scrub land. Its an uncommon animal but can usually be found during daylight hours by patient scoping.
Siberian Roe Deer (Capreolus pygargus), looking very similar to European Roe this species is fairly common in forested/scrub areas on the eastern border of the plateau around Ruoergai and Baxi. It can also be found in similar habitat in Qinghai. Our Sightings are mainly crepuscular – early morning scoping of forest clearings can give good results. During night drives we can pick it up when it will venture onto more open pasture habitats. The picture shows a pair of Siberian Roe being attacked by a Golden Eagle. Both animals escaped without any injury.
Sichuan Sika Deer (Cervus nippon sichuanicus), a rare subspecies of Sika that is found in the forested edges of the Tibetan Plateau in NW Sichuan and just over the border in Gansu. Shy and difficult to find in alpine conifer forests, once again its patient, early morning scope work that usually gets the best results.
Yak (Bos grunniens), there is an abundance of domestic yak on the Tibetan Plateau but wild yak are a highly endangered species. Black in colour and larger than domestic stock, wild yak used to range all the way into Sichuan. Now that much of that range is dominated by domestic animals, cross breeding and incorporation into farmed herds now means we can only find wild animals localised to small areas of Qinghai. To differentiate wild from domestic herds we take location, colour (totally black) and size into account.
Kiang (Equus kiang), is the wild equid species of the Tibetan Plateau. We find as locally common in Qinghai and can also find on the Sichuan side of the border around Shiqu. Sometimes forming large herds, it is an unmistakable species – and, although it keeps a reasonable distance from humans, is not a highly nervous species.
Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), is the most widespread and common of larger mammals. Often present in hill districts, where there is forest and good cover, they allegedly cause damage to neighbouring farming land. The presence of Wild Boar can often be seen with signs of the digging and scrapping which are part of their food finding. With the resultant persecution, Wild Boar are nervous animals, which are best seen during the night. Tangjiahe is the best location and here we also see them during daylight hours.