National Parks are areas approved and managed by the state, with clear boundaries, aimed at protecting nationally representative large-scale natural ecosystems. The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines them as extensive natural or near-natural areas designed to protect large-scale ecological processes, species, and ecosystem characteristics, while providing opportunities for compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational, and leisure activities within their environment and culture.
On October 12, 2021, China officially established the first batch of National Parks, including the Three-River Source, Giant Panda, Northeast Tiger and Leopard, Hainan Tropical Rainforest, and Wuyi Mountain, covering an area of 230,000 square kilometers and protecting nearly 30% of the nation’s key wild plant and animal species. Now, let me introduce the distinctive features of these 5 National Parks one by one.
Three-River Source National Park
Three-River Source National Park is located in the western part of China, in the hinterland of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, southern Qinghai Province, with an average elevation of 3500-4800 meters. It includes three regions: the source areas of the Yangtze River, Yellow River, and Lancang River. The pilot area’s total area is 123,100 square kilometers, accounting for 31.16% of the Three-River Source’s total area.
Terrain and Landforms
The national park features high-altitude grasslands as its main topography. The central and western parts, as well as the northern parts, consist of river valley mountains with wide and flat terraces. Extensive high-altitude meadows and marshy wetlands based on frost-heaving mounds are distributed across these areas. In the southeast, the north foot of Tanggula Mountain primarily consists of plateau low hills, plateau river-lake basins, permafrost, and other landform types.
The water resources in Three-River Source National Park are abundant, with the average annual runoff of the Yangtze River, Yellow River, and Lancang River sources being 218.58 billion cubic meters, 215.14 billion cubic meters, and 136.23 billion cubic meters, respectively. Glaciers and snow mountains are mainly distributed on the north slope of Tanggula Mountain, Kunlun Mountain, and Bayankala Mountain, serving as a major source of surface runoff.
The park has a relatively small forested area of 495.95 square kilometers. The main forest type is large-fruited cypress forest, concentrated in the high mountain gorges of the Lancang River source. Shrubbery is more widely distributed, mainly composed of high-altitude deciduous broad-leaved shrubs with diverse life forms and various adaptive features.
Yangtze River Source Region
The Yangtze River Source Region is located in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, covering the Kunlun Mountains, and the protection zone of the Sogar–Qumalai River within the Three-River Source National Nature Reserve. The total area of the park is 90,300 square kilometers.
Yellow River Source Region
The Yellow River Source Region is located in Maduo County, Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, covering the Zaling Lake–Eling Lake and Xingxing Lake protection zones within the Three-River Source National Nature Reserve. The area is 19,100 square kilometers. Zaling Lake and Eling Lake are the two largest natural lakes in the upper reaches of the Yellow River, forming the “Thousand Lakes” landscape with lakes like Xingxing Lake.
Lancang River Source Region
The Lancang River Source Region is located in Zadoi County, Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, including the Guozongmucha and Angsai protection zones within the Three-River Source National Nature Reserve, covering an area of 13,700 square kilometers.
Giant Panda National Park
Giant Panda National Park is situated in the western region of China, composed of the Minshan area in Sichuan Province, the Qionglai Mountain-Daxiangling area in Sichuan Province, the Qinling area in Shaanxi Province, and the Baishuijiang area in Gansu Province. The planned area covers 27,134 square kilometers. It falls within the transitional zone from the continental North Asian subtropical region to the warm temperate zone, with a forest coverage rate of 72.07%. It hosts 3,446 species from 1,007 genera and 197 families of seed plants and 641 vertebrate species.
Topography and Landforms
The overall terrain is higher in the northwest and lower in the southeast, characterized by high mountains, deep valleys, significant elevation differences, and rugged terrain. It features numerous deep valleys with relative height differences of over 1,000 meters, making it one of the most complex topographical areas globally. Most mountain elevations range between 1,500 and 3,000 meters, with the highest peak at 5,588 meters and the lowest point at 595 meters.
Located in the mid-latitude region, the park is notably influenced by the East Asian monsoon circulation. It lies in the transition zone from the continental North Asian subtropical region to the warm temperate zone. As elevation increases from southeast to northwest, the climate transitions from subtropical humid climate in river valleys to warm temperate humid climate, temperate semi-humid climate, and cold humid climate. The annual average temperature is 12-16°C, with extreme lows of -28°C and highs of 37.7°C. Annual precipitation ranges from approximately 500 to 1200 millimeters, with uneven seasonal distribution, being more abundant in summer and autumn and scarcer in winter and spring. Spatial distribution is also uneven, with the southwest region receiving more precipitation than the northeast, and mountainous areas more than river valleys, increasing with elevation.
The park covers a forested area of 19,556 square kilometers, with a forest coverage rate of 72.07%. The vegetation exhibits clear vertical distribution, transitioning with elevation, including “typical subtropical evergreen and deciduous forests – evergreen and deciduous broad-leaved mixed forests – temperate coniferous forests – cold temperate coniferous forests – shrubs and grass thickets – meadows.” It hosts 3,446 species from 1,007 genera and 197 families of seed plants, including species like alpine pines, Chinese oil pines, Sichuan-Dujiangyan oaks, fir trees, maples, birches, arrow bamboo, and more. Notably, there are 35 nationally protected wild plant species, including four first-level protected species like red bean spruce, southern red bean spruce, single-leaf grass, and gongtong.
Giant Panda National Park boasts 641 vertebrate species, including 141 mammals, 338 birds, 77 amphibians and reptiles, and 85 fish species. Notable among them are 22 nationally protected wild animal species, including giant pandas, Sichuan golden monkeys, clouded leopards, snow leopards, lynxes, musk deer, muntjacs, takins, Chinese mergansers, white-tailed sea eagles, golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, white-shouldered eagles, Himalayan vultures, green-tailed pheasants, hazel grouses, black storks, oriental white storks, black-necked cranes, and red-crowned cranes. Additionally, there are 94 nationally second-level protected wild animal species.
Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park
The Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park is situated at the junction of Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces in the southern part of Laoyeling, extending from Qinglongtai Forestry Bureau of Hunchun Forestry Bureau in Jilin Province to Lingdong Forestry Bureau of Daxinggou in Jilin Province, and from Jingxin Forestry Bureau of Hunchun Forestry Bureau in Jilin Province to Sandao Forestry Bureau of Dongjingcheng Forestry Bureau in Heilongjiang Province. The total area is 1.4065 million hectares.
Topography and Landforms
The park is located in the southern part of Laoyeling, a branch of the Changbai Mountain Range, and features mainly medium-low mountains, canyons, and hilly landforms. There is a distribution of basins, plains, plateaus, and other landforms, creating a complex and diverse topography. Most mountains have elevations below 1000 meters, with relative heights mostly between 200-600 meters, and the highest peak, Laoyeling, reaches an elevation of 1477.4 meters.
The southern and northern parts consist of valleys and low mountains, with the terrain gradually descending from the central part of the park towards the periphery. The park has undulating mountain ranges, crisscrossing valleys, and weak erosion on slopes. The soil is classified into nine types: dark brown soil, yellow-brown soil, brown soil, black calcareous soil, chestnut calcareous soil, meadow soil, marsh soil, black soil, and wind-blown sand soil. Dark brown soil is the most extensive and is developed on low mountain slopes, while marsh soil is distributed in valleys and along riverbanks.
The Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park is located in a continental humid monsoon climate zone. The climate is characterized by windy and dry springs, short and hot summers, cool and rapidly cooling autumns, and cold and lengthy winters. Due to the longitudinal and latitudinal distribution of mountains in the park, complex microclimates have formed. The average annual temperature is 5°C, with extreme highs reaching 37.5°C and extreme lows dropping to -44.1°C. Annual precipitation varies between 450-750 millimeters, with 80% concentrated from May to September.
The park boasts a forest coverage rate of 93.32%, with the primary vegetation being temperate mixed forests of conifers and broad-leaved trees. It hosts 666 species from 406 genera and 150 families of higher plants, including 13 species of gymnosperms from 7 genera and 3 families, and 535 species of angiosperms from 37 genera and 85 families. There are two nationally first-level protected wild plant species: Northeast Yew and Changbai Pine, and nine nationally second-level protected wild plant species, including Korean Pine, Chinese Torreya, and Taxodium ascendens.
The park is home to 270 species of wild vertebrates, including 43 species from 14 families in 6 orders of mammals, 190 species from 39 families in 15 orders of birds. Ten nationally first-level protected wild animal species are found, including Northeast Tigers, Northeast Leopards, sables, musk deer, sika deer, golden eagles, red-crowned cranes, and others. There are also 43 nationally second-level protected wild animal species, including brown bears, Asian black bears, lynxes, and roe deer.
Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park
Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park is the only “continental island-type” tropical rainforest on the intersection zone of Asian tropical rainforests and world monsoon evergreen broad-leaved forests. With a planned area of over 4,400 square kilometers and a maximum altitude of 1,867 meters, it falls within the tropical marine monsoon climate zone, boasting a forest coverage rate of 95.56%.
Topography and Landforms
Situated in the mountainous region of central and southern Hainan Island, the national park encompasses the majority of the Wuzhi Mountain Range in the east and the Limuling Mountain Range in the west, forming the highest ridge of Hainan Island. The highest point is Wuzhi Mountain, towering at 1,867 meters, also the island’s highest peak. The lowest point is in the Diaoluoshan area where the national park’s rivers exit, with an elevation of only 45 meters.
Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park is located on the northern edge of the tropics and falls under a tropical marine monsoon climate. The region experiences long sunshine hours and substantial solar radiation. The average annual temperature ranges from 22.5°C to 26.0°C, with an average annual rainfall of 1,759 millimeters.
The forest coverage of Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park is 95.56%, featuring various vegetation types such as tropical rainforests, South Asian pine forests, rubber forests, eucalyptus forests, Acacia confusa forests, Caribbean pine forests, and more. The park is home to 3,577 species from 1,142 genera and 220 families of wild vascular plants. Notably, there are six nationally first-level protected plant species, including Elaeocarpus bojeri, Beilschmiedia hainanensis, Alsophila hainanensis, Alsophila fendleri, Alsophila spinulosa, and Alsophila pothifera. Additionally, there are 34 nationally second-level protected plant species, including Arenga engleri, Aquilaria sinensis, Santalum album, Bauhinia brachycarpa, and Bauhinia championii.
The national park is inhabited by 627 species from 414 genera and 145 families of vertebrates, spanning five classes and 38 orders. There are eight nationally first-level protected animal species, including the Hainan gibbon, muntjac, clouded leopard, python, round-nosed giant lizard, Hainan partridge, Hainan peacock pheasant, and softshell turtle. Additionally, there are 67 nationally second-level protected animal species, including macaques, water deer, black bears, Chinese pangolins, small-clawed otters, red junglefowl, and Reeves’s muntjac.
Wuyishan National Park
Wuyishan National Park spans the provinces of Jiangxi and Fujian, recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a dual World Heritage Site for both nature and culture. Covering an area of 1,280 square kilometers, it includes the Wuyishan National Nature Reserve in Fujian, Wuyishan Scenic Area, Jiuxi River Upper Protected Zone, Guanze Wuyi Tianchi National Forest Park, and surrounding public forests, along with specific areas of Longhu Field in Shaowu City.
Topography and Landforms
Situated in the inland mountainous region, Wuyishan National Park’s main mountain ranges run in a northeast to southwest direction, forming a terrain that slopes higher in the northwest and northeast, and lower in the southwest and southeast. The predominant topographical features are low mountainous areas. Representative regions include Wuyishan National Scenic Area and Wuyishan National Nature Reserve.
Wuyishan National Scenic Area is characterized by Danxia landforms, where peaks and rock formations generally tilt from west to east, with a westward incline of 20°-25°, forming cliffs on the eastern side. Notable features in the area include the highest peak, San Yang Peak, at 729.2 meters, and the lowest peak, Shuiguang Stone, at 240 meters. The mid-range features Tianyou Peak, with an elevation of 410 meters.
Wuyishan National Park experiences a subtropical monsoon climate with distinct climate variations, warm and humid conditions, well-defined seasons, and abundant precipitation. The average annual temperature ranges between 17-19°C. The highest temperatures occur in July, with average monthly temperatures between 28-29°C and extreme highs of 41.4°C. January sees the lowest temperatures, with average monthly temperatures between 6-9°C and extreme lows of -9°C.
The park falls within the subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest zone, specifically the Zhe-Min mountainous area characterized by Castanopsis and Machilus. It is home to 2,799 species (including subspecies and varieties) of higher plants from 269 families, encompassing mosses (345 species), ferns (314 species), gymnosperms (26 species), and angiosperms (2,114 species, including subspecies and varieties). Additionally, the park records 239 species of algae, 503 species of fungi, and 100 species of lichen.
Wuyishan National Park is inhabited by 558 species of vertebrates from 332 genera and 125 families, spanning five classes and 35 orders. This includes 79 species of mammals, 302 species of birds, 80 species of reptiles, 35 species of amphibians, and 62 species of fish. Insects are highly diverse, with 6,849 species recorded from 599 genera and 31 orders. In total, the park boasts a rich biodiversity of 7,407 wild animal species.
China’s newly established national parks, such as Sanjiangyuan, Giant Panda, Northeast Tiger and Leopard, Hainan Tropical Rainforest, and Wuyishan, showcase the nation’s dedication to biodiversity conservation. From high-altitude plateaus to tropical rainforests, these parks highlight China’s rich ecological diversity and its commitment to sustainable practices. They not only preserve the country’s natural treasures but also contribute to global conservation. These parks symbolize the harmonious coexistence of humanity and nature, inviting visitors to experience untouched landscapes and cultural significance. China’s national parks are living examples of ecological integrity and a legacy for future generations.