Blue Sheep
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
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.

 

Agarli
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
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
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
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.
Tibetan antelope migration
Roadside Tibetan Antelopes - males on migration
Chinese Goral
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
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.

 

Chinese serow Baxi
A Chinese serow in alpine habitat - here the distinctive white mane is well illustrated.

 

 

 

Takin
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
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
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.