Monday, December 31, 2018

Moon Bear Bonanza!

Greetings Everyone,
The last leg of our Chinese mammal-watching extravaganza was a visit to Tangjiahe Nature Reserve. It was a long transfer to Tangjiahe but we made good time to Chengdu where we dropped off Erling. Sadly he wouldn’t be joining us in Tangjiahe. We stopped in the town of Qingxi for dinner and were entertained by the owner making fresh noodles for our soup.

Making Noodles

We finally arrived in Tangjiahe well after dark and took the opportunity to do a bit of spotlighting along the main road. We saw our first Takin and several Reeves' Muntjac along the way. The Takin is a big draw for the reserve. It’s a strange looking beast resembling a cross between a goat and an antelope. The Takin is considered vulnerable by the IUCN due to overhunting and habitat loss. In China, it is listed as endangered and is protected by law.


After checking into our very comfortable hotel, we walked along a trail above the river. We saw more Takin, Reeves' Muntjac and our first Northern Hog Badger. Care had to be taken when returning to our hotel room as the Takin like to graze on the hotel lawns. They can get quite ornery if you surprise one but we had no such encounters.

Northern Hog Badger

We didn’t get up early for the following morning’s walk so missed close encounters with a Masked Palm Civet and Northern Hog Badger. We vowed to drag ourselves out of bed on subsequent mornings. My disappointment was soon forgotten when I spotted a large dark shape in a tree across the river. Through my binoculars, I could see that it was an Asiatic Black Bear, a lifer for us! Also called a Moon Bear because of the white V-shaped marking on its chest, the Asiatic Black Bear is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN mainly due to hunting for bear bile. In this case, the medicinal value of bear bile is real owing to the active ingredient of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA). In controlled, clinical trials UDCA has been shown to have many of the medicinal properties claimed by traditional Chinese medicine such as reducing fever and inflammation, detoxifying the liver, arresting convulsions, improving eyesight, and dissolving gallstones. Although a synthetic alternative is available many Chinese prefer bear bile as it is believed to be more effective. To reduce the pressure on wild bear populations, China and several other Asian countries now have Asiatic Black Bears farms were bile is extracted from live bears, a practice that is harmful to the bears and creates a demand for wild cubs to restock these farms. The best solution is to convince consumers that synthetic UDCA is just as effective as bear bile and that purchasing living bear UDCA is morally wrong.

Asiatic Black Bear

We rushed to get the rest of the group as they had wandered off to wait for the bus into the reserve. They were just as ecstatic as us and for most of the group, this too was their first Asiatic Black Bear. We crossed the river on the footbridge to get a closer view and some photos. After snapping many, we left the bear in peace to continue feeding on fruits.

We took the next bus high into the reserve spotting a troupe of Tibetan Macaques along the way. We walked back along the road on high alert for Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys. Phil spotted two high up on a distant ridge but the rest of the group missed them. We joined Roland and Sarah on a mission to climb the ridge to locate them. It was very steep going with a lot of tree-grabbing to hoist ourselves up. When we arrived close to the top the monkeys were nowhere to be seen but it was a grand adventure nonetheless.

Climbing the Ridge

After lunch, we took a bus back into the reserve and were dropped off at the rangers’ station. We had reports that a Tufted Deer was hanging out there. Sure enough, a habituated individual emerged from the bushes and wandered to a plate of rice that the rangers had left for it. This deer is native to China and is hunted by locals so we were lucky to great views of this species that is normally difficult to see.

Tufted Deer

After dinner, we went on our first proper night drive. We spotted Takin, Chinese Goral, Northern Hog Badger, our only Chinese Serow (in this reserve) and a tiny bat hanging from a limestone cliff. Phil thought that is was a Japanese or Chinese Pipistrelle but bats are tough to identify.


We did join the early morning walk but the Northern Hog Badger that was so obliging yesterday was nowhere to be found. We spotted Takin and Reeves' Muntjac only. Today we opted to explore another part of the reserve since a large number of dignitaries had arrived for the annual “Fall Foilage Celebration”. We drove down the road and took a public bus to the start of our hike up the Motainling Valley. There was a large group of Chinese tourists but we soon left them behind as we started the climb. Birds were the star today as the mammals remained elusive. Roland was on the hunt for Temminck’s Tragopan and took us off-trail to find them. Sadly, no such luck. We returned to the main trail where a Chinese woman desperately sought our attention. She excitedly pointed to her iPhone and then to the bushes. I rushed up to her and saw that she had a beautiful photo of a Temminck’s Tragopan. We searched the area and Marc was able to get a decent shot.

Temminck’s Tragopan

We continued to the top to the ridge to scan for mammals. Sometimes Giant Pandas are seen here but we weren’t so lucky. The stunning view of the Motainling Valley was ample reward for our efforts.

Motainling Valley

We did another night drive after dinner seeing the same cast of characters but Roland did find us a new species, a Malayan Porcupine.

Malayan Porcupine

We were rewarded for getting out of bed early the next morning with a beautiful Leopard Cat sitting on a grassy slope across the river! We finally got a prolonged view and good photos of this feline who had been eluding us on this trip.

Leopard Cat

After breakfast, we returned to “Red Leaf Valley” to resume our search for the Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys. We failed in our attempt so in the afternoon we decided to follow up on a lead and go to the Defense Pass Trail where there were reports of sightings. We didn't see any monkeys but found the famous “Watch out for The Rolling Stones” sign.

"Watch out for The Rolling Stones"

On the way back down, we ran into our driver who was very excited about something. He kept pointing across the valley. Finally, we spotted an Asiatic Black Bear feeding high in a tree. Amazing, two Asiatic Black Bears on the same trip! The rest of our group was already onto the bear. It wasn’t as close as our first encounter but it was still fun to observe the bear feeding. As we were watching a second bear, then a third bear appeared. Incredibly, this was a sow with two cubs! What a rare privilege to see not one but four Moon Bears in the reserve. We hope Tangjiahe remains a safe haven for these beleaguered bears.

Asiatic Black Bear

We returned to the hotel thrilled with our astounding luck. In the dining room that night Phil told Brad Josephs who was leading a Natural Habitat Adventures group about our encounter with the bears. We met Brad in Churchill, Manitoba in 2012 while we were searching for Polar Bears. What a small world! Brad would take his group to hopefully see the bears in the morning.

We went on our final night drive after dinner seeing mainly the same mammals: Takin, Reeve’s Muntjac, Chinese Goral, Masked Palm Civet, Northern Hog Badger, another Malayan Porcupine, and Marc was finally able to get a photo of a Confucian Niviventer.

Confucian Niviventer

On the morning of October 27, we checked out of the hotel for the long drive back to Chengdu. A group of Tibetan Macaques was raiding the trash cans and one cheeky individual stole a bag of oranges from a Chinese woman.

Tibetan Macaque Raiding a Trash Can

On the way out we stopped at Defense Pass where the Natural Habitat Adventures group was just leaving. They had seen an incredible 5 Asiatic Black Bears, 3 adults, and 2 cubs! They had moved off so we missed the show. We weren’t at all disappointed having seen four bears ourselves. We didn’t arrive in Chengdu until 8:00 pm. Our amazing 6-week trip to Mongolia and China was coming to an end. What a successful journey it has been having logged nearly 60 species of mammals (see list below) in China alone. Many of these animals are endangered and were lifers for us. It is our sincere hope that the unique wildlife of China can continue to survive in areas that are seeing more and more human encroachment. As the standard of living for so many Chinese continues to improve so too should their commitment to protecting their incredible natural heritage increase. 

Our sincere thanks to Phil Benstead and Roland Ziedler for showing us the many wonders of Labahe and Tangjiahe Nature Reserves! 
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

    China Mammal List: September 26 - October 27, 2018

 No.    Species Scientific Name  Notes
 1Tibetan Macaque Macaca thibetana Labahe & Tangjiahe 
 2Red and White Giant Flying Squirrel Petaurista alborufus Labahe
 3Complex-toothed Flying Squirrel Trogopterus xanthipes Labahe
 4 Swinhoe’s Striped SquirrelTamiops swinhoeiLabahe
 5Père David's Rock Squirrel Sciurotamias davidianus Ruoergai & Tangjiahe 
 6Groove-toothed Flying Squirrel Aeretes melanopterusRuoergai 
 7Himalayan MarmotMarmota himalayanaRuoergai  & Qinghai 
 8Malayan Porcupine Hystrix brachyuraTangjiahe 
 9[Chinese Zokor]Eospalax fontanieriiRuoergai  (dead)
 10Confucian NiviventerNiviventer confucianusLabahe & Tangjiahe 
 11Blyth’s VolePhaiomys leucurusQinghai 
 12Tibetan Dwarf HamsterCricetulus alticolaWenquan Pass, Qinghai 
 13Midday JirdMeriones meridianusChaka, Qinghai 
 14Moupin PikaOchotona thibetanaBaixha, Qinghai 
 15Black-lipped PikaOchotona curzoniaeRuoergai  & Qinghai 
 16Glover’s PikaOchotona gloveriSouth of Yushu, Qinghai 
 17Tsingling PikaOchotona huangensisHuzhu, Qinghai 
 18Gansu PikaOchotona cansusHuashixia, Qinghai 
 19Woolly HareLepus oiostolusRuoergai & Qinghai 
 20Japanese or Chinese Pipistrelle pipistrelle sp.Tangjiahe 
 21Pallas’s CatOtocolobus manul4 in Ruoergai  & 1 in Qinghai 
 22Chinese Mountain CatFelis Bieti2 in Ruoergai  
 23Leopard CatPrionailurus bengalensis1 in Labahe & 1 in Tangjiahe 
 24[Snow Leopard]Panthera unciaTracks on the Er La, Qinghai 
 25Tibetan WolfCanis lupus filchneri6 in Ruoergai  & 10 in Qinghai 
 26Tibetan FoxVulpes ferrilataRuoergai  & Qinghai 
 27Red FoxVulpes vulpesRueorgai & Qinghai 
 28Asiatic Black BearUrsus thibetanus1 & sow w/2 cubs in Tangjiahe 
 29Red PandaAilurus fulgensAt least 3 individuals in Labahe 
 30[Giant Panda]Ailuropoda melanoleucaDujiangyan Panda Center
 31Asian BadgerMeles leucurus2 seen in Ruoergai  
 32Northern Hog BadgerArctonyx albogularisTangjiahe 
 33Mountain WeaselMustela altaica2 in Qinghai 
 34Siberian WeaselMustela sibirica1 unconfirmed in Labahe 
 35Steppe PolecatMustela eversmanii1 in Ruoergai  
 36KiangEquus kiangQinghai 
 37Wild BoarSus scrofaTangjiahe 
 38Reeves' Muntjac Muntiacus reevesiTangjiahe 
 39Forest Musk DeerMoschus berezovskii4 in Labahe
 40Alpine Musk DeerMoschus chrysogaster1 in Huzhu, Qinghai 
 41Siberian Roe DeerCapreolus pygargusRuoergai  & Huzhu, Qinghai 
 42Sika DeerCervus nippon1 in Ruoergai  
 43Tufted DeerElaphodus cephalophus1 in Tangjiahe 
 44[Altai Wapati]Cervus canadensis sibiricusIntroduced to Labahe 
 45Kansu WapitiCervus canadensis kansuensis Dulan Mts. in Qinghai 
 46MacNeill’s Wapiti Cervus canadensis macneilli“Greentours Valley”, Qinghai 
 47White-lipped DeerCervus albirostrisQinghai 
 48SambarRusa unicolorLabahe
 49Goitered GazelleGazella subgutturosaQaidam Basin, Qinghai 
 50Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudataChang Tang, Qinghai 
 51Przewalski's gazelleProcapra przewalskii41 near Koko Nor, Qinghai 
 52Tibetan Antelope (Chiru)Pantholops hodgsoniiChang Tang, Qinghai 
 53Wild YakBos mutusChang Tang, Qinghai 
 54TakinBudorcas taxicolorTangjiahe 
 55Chinese SerowCapricornis milneedwardsiiBaixha & Tangjiahe 
 56Chinese GoralNaemorhedus griseusLabahe & Tangjiahe 
 57ArgaliOvis ammonZhiduo, Qinghai 
 58Blue SheepPseudois nayaurQinghai & Ruoergai  

Our route map:

No comments: