China is one of the countries with the greatest diversity of wildlife in the world. There are more than 4,400 species of vertebrates, more than 10 percent of the world's total. There are nearly 500 animal species, 1,189 species of birds, more than 320 species of reptiles and 210 species of amphibians. Wildlife peculiar to China includes such well-known animals as the giant panda, golden-haired monkey, South China tiger, brown-eared pheasant, white-flag dolphin, Chinese alligator and red-crowned crane, totaling more than 100 species. The giant panda is an especially attractive sight. Heavily built, it has a docile disposition, and is delightfully adorable. The 1.2-m-tall red-crowned crane is a snow-white migratory bird. A distinctive patch of red skin tops its grey-brown head, hence its name. The white-flag dolphin is one of only two species of freshwater whale in the world. In 1980, a male white-flag dolphin was caught for the first time in the Yangtze River, which aroused great interest among dolphin researchers worldwide.
China has some of the most abundant plant life in the world. There are more than 32,000 species of higher plants, and almost all the major plants that grow in the northern hemisphere's frigid, temperate and tropical zones are represented in China. In addition, there are more than 7,000 species of woody plants, including 2,800 tree species. The metasequoia, Chinese cypress, cathaya tree, China fir, golden larch, Taiwan fir, Fujian cypress, dove-tree, eucommia and camplotheca acuminata are found only in China. The metasequoia, a tall species of arbor, is considered as one of the oldest and rarest plants in the world. The golden larch, one of only five species of rare garden trees in the world, grow in the mountain areas in the Yangtze River valley. Its coin-shaped leaves on short branches are green in spring and summer, turning yellow in autumn. China is home to more than 2,000 species of edible plants and 3,000 species of medicinal plants. Ginseng from the Changbai Mountains, safflowers from Tibet, Chinese wolfberry from Ningxia and notoginseng from Yunnan and Guizhou are particularly well-known Chinese herbal medicines. There is a wide variety of flowering plants. A flower indigenous to China, the elegant and graceful peony is treasured as the "color of the nation and the scent of heaven." Three famous species of flowers--the azalea, fairy primrose and rough gentian--grow in southwest China. During the flowering period, mountain slopes covered with flowers in a riot of colors form a delightful contrast with undulating ridges and peaks.
In a concerted effort to protect the nation's zoological and botanical resources, and save species close to extinction, China has established 1.146 nature reserves to protect forests and wildlife, with a total area of 88.13 million ha. The 15 nature reserves in China, namely, Sichuan's Wolong and Jiuzhaigou, Jilin's Changbai Mountains, Guangdong's Dinghu Mountains, Guizhou's Fanjing Mountains, Fujian's Wuyi Mountains, Hubei's Shennongjia, Inner Mongolia's Xilingol, Xinjiang's Mt. Bogda, Yunnan's Xishuangbanna, Jiangsu's Yancheng, Zhejiang's Tianmu Mountains Nanji and Islands Guizhou's Maolan and Heilongjiang's Fenglin, have joined the "International People and Bio-sphere Protection Network." Heilongjiang's Zhalong, Jilin's Xianghai, Hunan's Dongting Lake, Jiangxi's Poyang Lake, Qinghai's Bird Island, Hainan's Dongzhai Harbor and Hong Kong's Mai Po have been included in the listing of the world's important wetlands.