Zhouzhi, a county with picturesque scenery, is located at the center of the Guanzhong plain in Shanxi Province. With approval from the state council, the Zhouzhi National Reserve for Forest and Wild Animals was established in southwest of the county in 1988. It ranks among the top 40 globally significant reserves in China as determined by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an organization that addresses global environmental issues and supports sustainable development initiatives worldwide.
The centrally located Zhouzhi Reserve rests on the north slope of the middle Qinling Mountains and links together 21 other nature reserves in the surrounding areas. Boasting the largest footprint in Shanxi Province, it covers 56,393 hectares spanning 55 kilometers east to west and 15 kilometers north to south. Of particular interest is the Houzhenzi Giant Panda Passageway to the north, which allows the giant pandas greater access to their natural habitat in both the Taibai Mountain and Laoxiancheng Nature Reserve.
Annual precipitation in this mountainous region is usually 600 – 1,100 milimeters and temperatures average 6.4 – 8.4 degrees Celsius, giving rise to a diverse ecosystem. Situated on the southern rim of the warm temperate zone, the Zhouzhi Reserve is 96% forest and is covered with a wide array of beautiful plants and wildlives.
Researchers have identified 1,069 different seed plants in the reserve, of which there are 464 ligneous (woody plants) and 605 herbaceous types. Of these, 19 species are recognized as protected rare plants with special status given to the native Chinese yew (Taxus chinensis) and a species of perennial herb (Kingdonia uniflora). Included in the catalogued florae are over 90 types of fruit tree, 170 medicinal plants, 12 aromatic plants, 130 ornamental plants, and over 12 differ-exit types of orchid.
A varied cross-section of wildlife also populates the Zhouzhi Nature Reserve with 267 distinct vertebrates making their homes in the forest. There are 74 different kinds of mammals, 160 types of birds, 5 kinds of fish, 8 types of amphibians, and 20 different reptiles types that can be found through-out the region. Of these species, 29 have been given special protected status. On the endangered list are giant pandas, golden monkeys, takins, leopards, and forest musk deer while the remaining species are categorized as “threatened”.
In a partial survey conducted in 1983, there were 10 giant pandas discovered living in the Zhouzhi Reserve. Subsequent surveys conducted in 2001 and 2012 by the Shaanxi Provincial Forestry Department verified at least 23 giant pandas roaming across the 31,294 hectares of bamboo forest. The highest concentration was found west of National Highway 108, spreading across several nature reserves in the area. A higher number of gi-ant pandas can also be found in Xinglongling and Tianhua Mountain which are the northernmost panda habitats in China.
Golden monkeys are prevalent in southwest China. About 1,235 of these monkeys arranged in 11 family groups are recorded as living across the deciduous coniferous mixed forests of Zhouzhi at elevations of 1,500 meters. The largest population of Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey can be found at the northernmost rim of the reserve. The average distribution density is 7.14 individuals per square kilometer, with the average family group territory ranging 16.8 square kilometers. Due to conservation efforts, the average population in each family group has increased to 110 members since 1981 when surveys indicated only 86 individuals per group.
The overall mission for the Zhouzhi Nature Reserve is to protect the native wildlife and natural habitats, to preserve biodiversity and the integrity of the ecological system, and to safeguard water resources from the Hei River and its natural landscape. Continued scientific research and monitoring as well as effective wildlife and plant life management will preserve this natural setting for all living things.