This extensive itinerary through the Chinese province of Sichuan offers excellent chances to see some of the country’s unique and rare mammals including red pandas, Pallas’s cat and Tibetan fox.
Covering an area of just under 500,000 square kilometres in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River valley, Sichuan is one of the few Chinese provinces that offers reliable sightings for many of the country’s mammals. The province is squeezed between the Tibetan Plateau to the west, the lush forest of the Daba Mountains to the north, the Jinsha River to east, and the slopes of the Yungui Plateau to the south - a unique position with varied habitats that support an incredible diversity of mammals and birds.
Red pandas are seen in the forests of Labahe Forest Reserve and Tangjiahe Nature Reserve, which are both integral stops on our itinerary. The likelihood of seeing red pandas is much higher than their larger cousins, and these appealing mammals are not the only animal we hope to see. Over 40% of China’s 550 species of mammal can be seen Sichuan, including Pallas’s cat in the mountainous regions of the Tibetan Plateau. Other mammals that we may see during the trip include takin, golden snub-nosed monkey, Chinese mountain cat, hog badger, Chinese goral, Himalayan marmot, white giant flying squirrel and Tibetan fox.
Sichuan also has fantastic birdlife, with a huge list of species that includes some of Asia’s most outstanding localised birds. These range from passerines to raptors, and the variety is exceptional: Temminck’s tragopan, golden pheasant, black-necked crane, firethroat and golden-breasted fulvetta are just a few of the highlights.
Day1: Depart UK
Depart the UK on an overnight flight to Chengdu.
Day2: Arrive Chengdu & transfer to Labahe Nature Reserve
On arrival in Chengdu, we meet our local leader at the airport and transfer to Labahe Nature Reserve in the foothills of the Hengduan Mountains.
Accommodation: Hotel near Labahe Nature Reserve, 3-nights
Day3: Explore Labahe Nature Reserve
We spend the next two days exploring Labahe Nature Reserve in search of its excellent mammals and birds. We hope to see a diversity of species including hog badger, Chinese goral, golden-breasted fulvetta and takin amongst others.
Labahe is also a particularly reliable place to see red panda, and we try our best to see this unique and appealing animal as they forage for fruiting trees in the vegetation.
Day5: Travel to Wolong National Nature Reserve
A final morning excursion in Labahe Nature Reserve should hopefully provide some excellent wildlife before we set off on an afternoon journey to Wolong National Nature Reserve, which lies within the Qionglai Mountain range.
Accommodation: Hotel near Wolong National Nature Reserve, 2-nights
Day6: Full-day in Wolong National Nature Reserve
Today we enjoy a full day in Wolong National Nature Reserve. Established in 1963 and expanded in the mid-1970s, this reserve covers an area of approximately 2,000 square kilometres. The most recent National Giant Panda Survey suggested that around 150 individuals live in Wolong. However the likelihood of seeing a giant panda in the wild is small, as they normally live in the most secluded and inaccessible areas of the reserve.
Despite the elusiveness of the giant panda, Wolong is also home to many other mammal species, some of which are endangered. Thorold’s deer, Chinese serow, Himalayan marmot, red panda and leopard cat are some of the highlights that we may sight here.
In addition to Wolong’s various mammals, there is an incredible array of birds that deserve our attention. Some of China’s most exotic and distinctive birds have been recorded in the reserve, such as Temminck’s tragopan, golden pheasant and firethroat.
Day7: Drive to Hongyuan
After breakfast we start our drive to Hongyuan in northwest Sichuan close to the Tibetan Plateau, making several stops on the way to break up the drive and enjoy the stunning scenery en route.
Accommodation: Hotel in Hongyuan, 1-night
Day8: Continue to Ruoergai
In the morning we continue a short distance to Ruoergai on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Once we have checked in to our accommodation, we spend the rest of day birding around Ruoergai and may also have time for a night drive to look for mammals.
Accommodation: Hotel near Ruoergai, 3-nights
Days9-10: Explore Ruoergai
Due to its proximity to the Tibetan Plateau, Ruoergai is fast gaining a reputation as an excellent location to see some of China’s iconic cats. Pallas’s cat and Chinese mountain cat are seen with surprising regularity, along with the characterful Tibetan fox. All these predators are attracted to the region by the abundance of prey species - mostly rodents and birds.
We spend two days exploring Ruoergai and its surroundings in search of cats and Tibetan fox, as well as other mammals and birds. Asian badger, marbled polecat and goa (or Tibetan gazelle) are all found on these grasslands.
Numerous lakes and marshes are dotted across the vast plateau, and the bird list for this area is very long with black-necked crane, lammergeier, Guldenstadt’s redstart, merlin, hen harrier and black vulture all seen here, while raptors are particularly prominent.
Day11: Drive to Tangjiahe
Today we continue to Tangjiahe - a drive that takes most of the day. However, we take several stops en route to break up the drive and admire Sichuan’s stunning landscapes.
Accommodation: Hotel in Tangjiahe, 4-nights
Days12-14: Tangjiahe Nature Reserve
Over the course of the next three days we explore Tanjiahe Nature Reserve by vehicle and on foot. This reserve covers 400 square kilometres and is arguably one of the prime spots to see mammals in the whole of China. As a result of the subtropical climate the vegetation is verdant and fresh, in turn supporting a huge diversity of fauna.
Golden snub-nosed monkeys, takin, hog badger, leopard cat, masked palm civet, Asian black bear, Perny’s long-nosed squirrel, Malayan porcupine, complex-toothed flying squirrel and Chinese serow are just a few of Tangjiahe’s mammals. It is thought that around 60 giant pandas live in the reserve, but once again these are notoriously elusive.
When it comes to birds, Tangjiahe is known for certain species, such as tawny fish owl, Zappey’s flycatcher, collared crow and crested kingfisher. The reserve is also one of the only reliable spots to see Przewalski’s parrotbill.
Day15: Return to Chengdu
We enjoy one final morning excursion in Tangjiahe Nature Reserve before driving back to Chengdu in the afternoon. On the way we stop at the Yazi River to see some wintering birds.
Accommodation: Hotel in Chengdu, 1-night
Day16: Fly back to the UK
This morning we transfer to Chengdu airport to check-in for the return flight back to the UK, arriving later thes same day.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 16 daysfrom £4,625 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 15 daysfrom £3,975 pp
Nick Acheson lives where he grew up, in North Norfolk. For ten years he lived in South America, working with conservation NGOs such as WWF and Wetlands International.
He has also spent three years in Asia and has worked with wildlife on every continent. A conservationist by passion and commitment, since his return to the UK he has worked for Norfolk Wildlife Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and the Hawk and Owl Trust. Having crossed the globe in search of wildlife, he is equally at home spotlighting in a Bornean rainforest, watching walruses from zodiacs in the arctic, shedding tears over the song of Madagascar's indris, or snug in the Norfolk flint cottage he shares with a three-legged lurcher and a rescued flock of hens.
Terry is an ecologist, who has conducted fauna surveys for mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs in Australia and Papua New Guinea. He has worked as a rainforest ecologist and was involved in tertiary level education in Bornean rainforest on behalf of an Australian university.
Terry made his first overseas trip in 1977, to Papau new Guinea, and continues to explore remote locations. He has led numerous and varied wildlife tours to Malaysia and PNG, twice had lengthy stints as a guide based at a lodge in Amazonian Brazil, and pursued wildlife in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Kenya, China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, India, USA, New Caledonia and Morocco. In 2018 Terry took his first trip to Japan, visiting Hokkaido primarily to see Steller's sea eagle.
Situated in the Hengduan Mountains southwest of Chengdu in the province of Sichuan, the Lahabe Nature Reserve is a protected area of alpine forest which is perfect for red panda. This reserve is one of the best places in the world to see this characterful mammals as well as a host of other species.
Where: Sichuan Province
Ideal for viewing: red panda, Tibetan macaque, golden-breasted fulvetta, hog badger, white giant flying-squirrel
Excellent for: Birdwatching
Situated on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, the grasslands and rocky outcrops of Ruoergai are one of the few places to see China’s iconic cats – Pallas’s cat and Chinese mountain cat. Tibetan fox and wolf are also spotted here, making it an excellent location to see the region’s predators.
Where: Sichuan Province
Ideal for viewing: Pallas’s cat, Chinese mountain cat, Tibetan fox, plateau pika, Tibetan gazelle
Excellent for: Wolf watching
Tangjiahe Nature Reserve is situated along the northeast border of Sichuan Province, right in the centre of China. Covering an area of 400 square kilometres, this reserve was established as a refuge for wild giant pandas, but is currently one of the best spots to see China’s mammals.
Where: Sichuan Province
Ideal for viewing: hog badger, golden takin, Tibetan macaque, Temminck’s tragopan, leopard cat