Dear Steemit friends :
Some of my fondest memories whilst travelling, come from my close encounters with nature and wildlife. If you've followed me for a while, you'll remember my encounters with Sharks, Sea Lions, Swimming Pigs, Leopards,Iguanas and many more!
It's no coincidence that my family of cats have had a big role in shaping my adoration of animals. But as much as I could just stay at home and keep my cats busy with company, I'm always curious to see more animals living in natural environments. Some of them extremely rare, to the point that they are protected animals and considered country treasures.
I decided to visit a special place known for it's soaring mountain peaks, and vast stretches of untouched deciduous forests. Crucially, they are the home to China's most endangered animals, and some of the last places in the world where you will ever see these animals.
The place is called Qinling or Qin Mountains (秦岭). The Qin Mountains are a vast mountain range in the south of the Shaanxi Province and serve as a natural border between the North and South of China. My visit will take me to the main Qinling village, where a special reserve has been set up. Originally to help preserve and protect the dwindling numbers of endangered species, the Qinling conservation has had a very positive effect on the area and is now drawing attention from people all over China.
The village is quite hard to reach - there are no train services, the only method is by car. Setting off at Xi'an, it took over 4 hours driving through mountain roads, passing through what felt like endless numbers of tunnels.
Once inside the village, I realised that for the most part, this village has been left untouched. It's modern amenities extend as far as the 90's looking hotel which I stayed at. Everything else, looked liked early nationalist China, the houses were mostly made from wood, and along the main street, many people would sell little snacks and food which are naturally found in the mountainous region.
The first order of the day, and probably the most popular, is the Giant Panda tour.
The shuttle buses will take off every 30 minutes or so, and drive you along some spectacular scenery en route to the Giant Panda area.
A lot of effort has been made to preserve the natural landscape, most of the landscaping and buildings blend in perfectly with the natural surroundings.
The canals were used for transporting harvest between villages, it was only until recently that they began using road vehicles for this purpose.
Believe it or not, most of the houses you see here are inhabited by villagers. In contrast, their days' seem really long. The majority of time is spent sowing for the harvest, or preparing food.
Just a quick 10 minute ride, and we've arrived at the Panda viewing area. The large stone with the red characters alert us to the impending Panda Bear cuteness overload, whilst the mountains piercing through the clouds remind us that we are entering "bear" territory!
Each of the viewing areas for the animals have their own statues such as this very giant sized Panda. (Looks a bit like Po from Kung Fu Panda right?)
Panda bears are native to south central China and were considered an endangered species. In Chinese, the Panda is called 大熊猫 or Big Bear Cat, and this is because from a looks point of view, they have a lot of characteristics of a bear and cat. Their status as conservation reliant vulnerable means that without these conservation efforts, the Panda bear population would have continued to decline.
In the wild, Panda bears have a very short period of time to breed. (3 days) And thus, it is a challenge for them to reproduce very quickly.
In captivity, breeding programs have had mixed success, depression in captivity was cited as one of the reasons that many of the Panda's refused to mate. However, as of today, there are more than 230 Panda's living in captivity inside China, and a further 49 outside. Many a result of successful breeding.
And here we are, the Giant Panda of Shaanxi. In the mountains, there are reportedly around 2000 or more Panda's. A figure that has increased significantly over the years.
Even though the Panda is considered a bear and classified as a carnivore, it's primary diet is bamboo shoots. In fact, the Panda has such a large body mass that it needs to eat more than 10 kilograms of Bamboo shoots every single day. Given the relatively low energy content of the bamboo shoots, Panda's have adjusted their behaviours to conserve energy. For instance, they are not social creatures, and prefer living in isolation as adults. Panda's also tend to avoid walking up steep slopes.
This Panda was out of character and climbed up to give us a good view of his back!
Giant Panda's all have very round faces because of their jaw muscles used to crush the bamboos. However, there is a saying that Shaanxi Panda's have rounder faces than their Sichuan counterparts.
The Giant Panda moves very slowly because of it's slow metabolic rate, and low energy content diet. However, it is very good at storing fat. This is because of it's mostly sedentary lifestyle. (Kind of reminds me of a lot of us these days!)
Despite their lazy demeanour, Panda's are able to travel vast distance to find habitats which can sustain them. During summer, the Panda's migrate to the Qin Mountains, higher up where the Bamboo shoots have more nutrition. In the Autumn they return to the valleys to eat the leaves which are richer in calcium.
This was the highlight of my visit, the Panda rolled onto it's side and then onto it's back, using it's paws to scratch it's tummy. It's so cute, and reminds me of my cats who like to do the same!
This I believe is a dragon fruit. Characterised by it's scaley pink texture, it was just one of my strange exotic looking fruits lurking in the lush vegetation of the forest.
By the exit, there are a number of villagers who were selling their pickings of various fruits from the mountains.
One that particularly interested me was the Purple Wild Banana's.
When you open the "banana" up, you are presented with what looks like a Caterpillar larvae. It was then that I realised, they weren't banana'as at all. Perhaps a little from the outside, but in actual fact, these are mostly seeds with a tiny bit of fruit meat in there.
These are some of the other villagers selling their goods. Aside from the Panda souvenirs, it's mostly wild nuts, and fruits picked from the mountains.
In the city, you will never see flowers as pretty as theses, or exotic butterflies resting freely on them.
The shuttle bus waits for us at the drop off point, and takes us back to village where we wait for our next shuttle bus.
From the traditional Chinese houses, to the vast and expansive mountain ranges, there is almost nothing that isn't worth capturing as a photo or video.
This is one of the main street buildings made mostly out of wood. Outside, there are wooden chairs and tables for guests to eat outside. The China Unicom sign is actually just for decoration. Out here, there is no reception, let alone phone network shops.
The next animal to visit is one that I never even knew existed. Most people know about the Giant Panda because it is unofficially the symbol of China alongside the dragon. But the Golden Takin is one of the lesser known protected animals of China. Infact, it's conservation status is currently endangered meaning that without improvement, it will eventually become extinct.
Like the last area, the outside has a statue of the animal. From the statue, you can tell the Golden Taken is a very formidable looking creature. It's front body is very large, and the horns on it's head are very big and pointy.
And here it is, the Golden Takin. As you can see it has the features of both a goat as well as an antelope. This is why it is categorised as a goat-antelope.
The Golden Takins are much more social with each other, and that is because in the wild, they live together in herds, and migrate up and down the mountains depending on the season.
The smell of the Golden Takin is a combination of horse and musk, and the Takin's themselves use various scents produced by their body's to indicate their social standing.
Using their keen sense of smell, they can also detect pheromones in the skin and unrine of other Takin's. For example, the female Takin's may advertise their sexual status by urinating on their tail. Here, the male Takin is having a smell to see the female's status and mating intentions!
The Golden Takin is also likely the source of the legend of the Golden Fleece which was searched for by Jason and the Argonauts.
Golden Takins are genuinely beautiful animals, though they spend most of the time up in high altitudes, this hasn't stopped people from poaching them for their fur. If left to their own accord, Takin's have very few enemies, only bears and wolves pose a threat. Even then, they can use their horns aggressively, as well as make very loud roars.
Other times when communicating with each other, very audible bellows can be heard which is supplemented by extensive use of body language, raised neck and chin, upright posture, snorting, and lots of eye contact.
Don't forget to check out my video for some footage of the animals!
Thank you for joining me on this journey to the Qin Mountains and getting a close look at some of the rarest animals in the entire world. It is hard to believe that without human intervention, both of these animals (Panda and Golden Takin) would have been pushed to the edge of extinction. Thankfully, the efforts to conserve their numbers and habitat have come a long way, and both are now growing in number each year.
So, which is your favourite? The Giant Panda, or the Golden Takin? Let me know in the comments below!