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Forest survey finds rare animals

By Chen Liang and Li Yingqing | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2016-05-01 14:29

Cameras placed in Yunnan reserve record endangered species of wild deer, civet and bear

It's hard to see wild animals in China, especially mammals. Some species that were once widely distributed have rarely been spotted for years, including the large Indian civet, Asiatic golden cat and dhole, or Asiatic wild dog.

Yet a team of conservationists say they are excited by the results of a recent wildlife survey in the far southwest of the country.

Forest survey finds rare animals

Footage captured on motion-activated cameras set up last summer in northeast Mengla county, Yunnan province, has provided a large collection of fresh data on 23 rare species, including what is thought to be Williamson's mouse-deer and Asian black bear.

"We set up 20 cameras in a forest covering about 500 square kilometers in the border area between China and Laos," says Feng Limin, a zoologist at Beijing Normal University and a founding member of the Chinese Felid Conservation Alliance. "They produced more than 10,000 photos."

Before the survey, which was supported by the Lancang Watershed Conservation Fund, Feng says there were only one or two reliable recordings of the large Indian civet. They came from a survey by the alliance last year in Medog, in the Tibet autonomous region.

"Until then, we weren't sure whether the animal could still be found in the country."

The civet is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Asia. Once widely distributed in South China, its population has declined sharply since the 1950s. The animal has disappeared from most habitats because of hunting, either for its meat or as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

Williamson's mouse-deer is the smallest species of deer found in China. According to Feng, the animal is usually seen in southern Mengla, in fragmented forests along the Nanla River at altitudes below 600 meters. However, those recorded in the recent survey roamed at altitudes close to 1,000 meters.

"It's the first time the deer has been recorded at an elevation above 700 meters in China. It may mean an unknown population exists in Mengla," he says, adding that the finding warrants further research.

In fact, scientists are not sure whether mouse-deer in China are Williamson's mouse-deer or an entirely different, or even new, species, he adds.

"There have been few ecological studies on the animal. The discovery of the new population will certainly shed light on the species."

Records for the Asiatic golden cat and dhole, both of which are endangered, were also scarce before the survey, Feng says.

"Our findings show the rich biodiversity of the surveyed area. It will give the forestry department direct evidence for its preservation."

He explains that the area was a state-owned forest farm until it was designated as a nature reserve last year. Before the survey, it was a mystery to scientists and conservationists.

The discovery of so many rare animals, including a few carnivores, reveals the biodiversity in the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture, says Yang Hongpei, director of scientific research for the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, which carried out the survey with the alliance.

The comparatively unspoiled ecosystem shows the area's high value for scientific research and conservation, he adds.

This year, Feng, Yang and their colleagues will continue the survey. "We want to get a full picture of the biodiversity in this area and across Xishuangbanna," Yang says.

Because of pressures from economic development, especially expansion of crops such as tea and rubber trees, tropical forests in Xishuangbanna have shrunk and become fragmented. Today, the national reserve has only about 3,000 sq km of primitive forests left. The surveyed forest is about 1,000 meters above sea level and ideal for tea planting.

"Areas near the forest are known for producing good Pu'er tea. At present, the expanding tea plantations are a major threat to the forest," Feng says.

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