Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, China


The Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area (32°54'-33°19'N, 103°46'-104°04'E) is a World Heritage Site that stretches over 72,000 hectares (ha) of northern Sichuan. The surrounding peaks rise to 4,560 meters (m), more than 2,400 m above its lowest point, and are bear a series of forest ecosystems stratified by elevation. Its superb landscapes are particularly interesting for their series of narrow conic karst land forms and spectacular waterfalls and lakes. Some 140 bird species are found in the valley, as well as a number of endangered plant and animal species, including the giant panda and the Sichuan takin.

Geographical Location

In northern Sichuan Province, west-central China, in the southern Min Shan Mountains about 270 kilometers (km) north of Chengdu. It includes the catchment areas of the Rize, Zezhawa and Shizheng streams which join the Zharu to form the Jiuzhaigou river: 32°54'-33°19'N, 103°46'-104°04'E.

Date and History of Establishment

caption Winter at Jiuzhaigou Valley. (Source: Scottish Information Center)

  • 1978: Part of the area protected as a nature reserve after heaving logging; before 1975 it had been almost undisturbed;
  • 1982: The site proposed as an area of Scenic Beauty and historic Interest by the State Council of the People's Republic of China;
  • 1984: The Administration Bureau for the sit was established;
  • 1987: An overall plan for the sit with regulations, drafted and approves
  • 1997: Proclaimed a Biosphere Reserve.


72,000 ha, with a buffer zone of 60,000 ha. Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve is 65,074 ha. The site is near Wanglang Nature Reserve (27,700 ha) and Huanglong Scenic Area (70,000 ha) to the southeast.

Land Tenure

State, in Jiuzhaigou County within the jurisdiction of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Region. Managed by the Administrative Bureau of Jiuzhaigou (ABJ) for the Sichuan Provincial Commission for Construction. The forests are managed by the State Forestry Administration.


2,140 meters (m) (Luveihai, Reed Lake, at the mouth of Jiuzhaigou) to 4,558 m (Mt. Ganzigonggai).

Physical Features

Jiuzhaigou valley is a district of narrow forested valleys and lakes beneath steep snow-capped mountains on the rugged margins of the Tibetan plateau. The site is dominated by three drainages, Rize and Zechawa streams which flow from south to north, meeting at the center of the site to form the Shuzheng which drops 1,000 m to the north end of the reserve. There it meets the Zharu stream flowing north-west from the eastern boundary to form the Jiuzhaigou river, one of the sources of the Jialing river, part of the Yangtze River system. Most of the park boundaries follow the high mountain ridgelines defining the watersheds of these rivers. In 1991 the MoC listed 114 lakes, 47 springs,17 groups of waterfalls, 11 rapids and 5 tufa shoals within the reserve. The valley bottoms are flat and their sides steep.

Jiuzhaigou lies on the edge between the Qinghai-Tibetan and Yangtze tectonic plates. Major fault lines run through the site, the west half of which is rising. Earthquakes are not uncommon and have been a major influence on the landscape. The rock strata are dominated by intensely folded carbonate rocks, notably dolomite and tufa, with some exposed sandstone and shale. Of geologic interest are the high altitude karst landforms which have been strongly carved by glacial, hydrologic and tectonic activity resulting in U-shaped valleys, cirques and hanging valleys. Most of the site soils are derived from this limestone rock, are well developed and are neutral to slightly alkaline with some variation in color and texture. The higher mountain meadow soils are poorly developed, the high mountain soils are skeletal or permanently frozen.

The best known feature of Jiuzhaigou is its very numerous lakes. Many of these are classic ribbon lakes in glacially formed valleys, dammed by avalanche rock-falls and stabilized and terraced by carbonate deposition. Above and/or below some of the lakes are calcareous tufa dykes and shoals. In two places, there are terraced lakes separated by tufa weirs like the travertine pools of Huanglong Scenic Area to the south; these sites, Shuzheng Lakes and Nuorilang Lakes, with 19 and 18 lakes respectively, are less well-developed geologically than the Huanglong pools, but much larger in size. There is a number of large and spectacular waterfalls, including Xionguashai (Panda Lake) Fall which drops 78 m in three steps, and the Zhengzhutan (Pearl Shoal) Fall, which drops 28 m in a 310 m-wide curtain of water, both in the Rize valley. Pearl Shoal Fall lies at the downstream end of the Zhengshutan which is the largest of the tufa shoals in the reserve. These shoals are wide gently sloping areas of active calcareous deposition under thin sheets of flowing water. Although spectacular, they are not as extensive as those in the Huanglong Scenic Area


The area has a subtropical to temperate monsoon climate, with a succession of zones cooling with altitude. Valleys are warm and dry, the middle mountain slopes cold and damp. At Nuorilang at 2,400 m in the Shuzheng valley the mean annual temperature is 7.3°C, the mean January temperature is –3.7°C and the mean July temperature is 16.8°C. The total annual rainfall there is 761 millimeters (mm) but in the cloud forest between 2,700 m and 3,500 m it is at least 1,000 mm. 80% of this falls between May and October as the monsoon moves up the valley giving mild, cloudy, moderately humid summers. Above 3,500 m the climate is colder and drier. Snow falls between October and April.

Monthly Precipitation Totals


JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptember OctoberNovemberDecember

Precipitation (mm)



Jiuzhaigou lies close to the intersection of the Eastern Asian, Himalayan, and subtropical Palaearctic floristic regions, between the eastern and southeastern damp forests, the coniferous mountain woods and the grass and shrubland of the Qingzang Plateau. Past glaciation never reached below 2,800 m which has preserved a wide variety of relict and endemic species in what is the most biologically diverse temperate forest in the world. Virgin forests of mountain conifers and mixed broadleaf-coniferous species cover 63.5% of the site, with much of the rest being above the tree line. In 1986 more than 150 tree species were reported and in 1991 744 seed plants were counted. MoC in 1991 stated that 2,576 plant species had been recorded for the area, including 212 aquatic species (which contribute to the color of the lakes), and 512 categories of seed plant. Included in the MoC list are 92 species plus 42 varieties or subspecies of interest for their rarity, endemicity, ornamental or medicinal value. The area is known for orchids. In the cloud forest between 2,700 m and 3,200 m the bamboo Fargesia nitida, an important food for giant pandas, dominates the understorey and between 2,700 m and 3,800 m there are 15 species of rhododendron. A baseline survey of the flora is being undertaken, looking especially at the subalpine levels.

The following observations are taken from Winkler (1998). There are three main belts of vegetation: montane mixed forest (2,000 m to 2,700 m), cloud forest (2,700 m to 3,500 m) and subalpine (3,500 to 4,200 m), and the vegetation of north- and south-facing slopes is strongly differentiated. From 2,000 m to 2,400 m, the loess soils of the dry valley bottoms used to be farmed and the slopes have suffered many fires The original Chinese hemlock of the north slopes has been almost replaced by a secondary forest of pine and oak: Chinese red pine Pinus tabulaeformis with an oriental white oak Quercus aliena and Q. baronii understorey, smoketree Cotinus coggyria being dominant on south-facing slopes, and Rhododendron micranthum on cool slopes. Between 2,400 m and 2,700 m the conditions are more humid with a richer soil, though tree-cutting and fires have also damaged this zone. North-facing slopes are dominated by a fir-spruce forest of Abies faxoniana with Picea wilsoni and dragon spruce P.asperata, south-facing slopes by a pine-spruce forest of Pinus tabulaeformis with Chinese white pine P.armandii and Picea asperata. The pioneer and sub-canopy species is Chinese paper birch Betula albo-sinensis with a low tree layer of maple Acer and linden Tilia species. The rare plum yew Cephalotaxus fortunei occurs here.

The altomontane cloud-forest between 2,700 m and 3,500 m has a high rainfall and constant high humidity. It occurs in two layers: bamboo forest to 3,200 m (the habitat of the panda and 15% of the reserve), and rhododendron-dominated north slopes to 3,500 m. This level was logged in the 1970s. The dominant conifers are Abies faxoniana, Picea asperata, P. wilsoni and purple-coned spruce P. purpurea (which is also being planted) with a sub-canopy of Betula albo-sinensisB.utilis, low Acer spp. and fountain bamboo Fargesia / Sinarundinaria nitida which suffered a major die-off after flowering in the 1970s and early 1980s, Fargesia denudata and F.chinensis. Branches are sleeved in mosses and lichens such as beard lichen Usnea longissima. Minjiang cyprus Cupressus chengiana, Eucommia ulmoides, Picea brachtyla (VU), L. mastersiana (VU), Tetracentron sinensis, katsura tree Cercidiphyllum japonicum and the rare endemic relict one-leaved grass KIngdonia uniflora also occur here. Around 3,200 m sub-tropical give way to temperate species but humidity and epiphyte growth remain high. Here cool slopes have Abies faxoniana with Betula utilis and a shrub layer totally dominated by Rhododendron species. A larger herbaceous cover is dominated by sedges Carex spp.and Kobresia macrantha. Warm slopes have Picea purpurea and junipers Sabina convallium and S. saltuaria with some larch Larix potaninii.

The subalpine belt between 3,500 m and 3,900 m is drier, with, on north slopes, Abies faxoniana and Betula utilis above rhododendrons which grow up to the tree line, becoming dwarfed, and on south slopes, junipers with some Picea purpurea and larch as the forest gives way to mountain shrubs (Salix spp.and sedges) mixed with alpine meadows used as yak pastures. Meadows dominate above 3,800 m and form the only vegetation above 4,000 m along with high-alpine species such as Saussurea medusa. Above about 4,200 m is permanent snow and ice.


caption The Giant Panda who lives in the Jiuzhaigou valley is on the endangered species list. (Source: Scottish Information Center)

The varied habitats and wide altitudinal range make for a highly diverse and biologically important fauna. MoC (1991) notes 170 vertebrate species and lists ten mammals and two fish, including notable species as giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca (EN), lesser panda Ailurus fulgens (VU), golden snub-nosed monkey Pygathrix roxellanae roxellanae (VU), rhesus monkey Macaca mulatta, Szechwan takin Budorcas taxicolor thibetana (VU) mainland serow Capricornis sumatraensis (VU), common goral Nemorhaedus goral, tufted deer Elaphodus cephalophus, forest musk deer Moschus berezovskii and white-lipped deer Cervus albirostris (VU). Ji et al.(1990) state that Chinese water deer Hydropotes inermis is also present. Winkler (1998) adds black bear Ursus thibetanus, clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa and bamboo rat Rhyzomys sinense.

In 1996 the panda population was estimated at 17 individuals. This population was formerly larger and linked to other populations to the east and northeast of the reserve. MoF/WWF in 1989 described the population as being small and totally isolated. The proximity of the site to other panda populations, notably in Baihe and Wanglang reserves and the proposed Wujiao Reserve, gives potential for restoring the links between these populations and maintaining a healthy gene flow. A large interconnected series of reserves would be of great value also to the continued survival of the golden snub-nosed monkey, which also requires extensive areas of undisturbed habitat.

141 species of birds have been recorded from the site. Some 13 of these are listed including lesser kestrel Falco naumanni (VU), Chinese grouse Bonasa sewerzovi (VU), Chinese monal Lophophorus lhuysii (VU), blue-eared pheasant Crossoptilon auritum, Sichuan jay Perisoreus imternigrans (VU), snowy-cheeked laughingthrush Garrulax sukatschewi (VU), rufus-headed robin Luscinia ruficeps (VU) and a subspecies of Tengmalm's owl Aegolius funereus beickianus which is endemic to the region. Many of these are found in the biodiverse panda habitat, threatened by logging in the past and by tourist disturbance today.

Cultural Heritage

In local legend the origin of the 114 lakes is the shattering of a mirror given by a mountain god of the valley to a mountain goddess across the way, who dropped it; a tufa dyke clearly visible below the surface of Dragon lake (Wolonghai) is compared to a dragon, and other lakes are held to contain mythical monsters. These stories are an attraction to tourists and have received some scientific interest. The local Tibetan people practice the pre-Buddhist Bön religion. Stupas (shrines) and prayer-wheels are seen everywhere, evidence of the local belief that soul is inherent in all things, including mountains. However it is reported that the maintenance of local Tibetan cultural traditions is a major problem today.

Local Human Population

Until 1975 this remote and inaccessible area was little known. It was then heavily exploited by the logging industry until 1978. Jiuzhaigou means literally nine-stockade-valley because there were once nine Tibetan villages along its length; six villages remain. Since the government banned agricultural activity almost all of the remaining Tibetan villagers cater to tourists as hotel-keepers, craftsmen, guides and entertainers. The total population is about 1,007, comprised of 112 families. A small Buddhist monastery is located in the Zharu Valley. The town of Jiuzhaigou lies outside the site near the northwestern border and there is constant growth of commercial activity just outside the entrance to the reserve.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

The site has been officially open to tourists since January 1984 and access from Chengdu has become less difficult. Since then, tourist numbers, including those from overseas, have increased annually, from 5,000 in 1984 through 160,000 in 1995, 3,000 of whom were foreigners to 1,190,000 in 2002. Restaurants and tourist accommodation are no longer available within the site, but have been strongly developed outside it. 25,000 beds were already provided by 2001. 55.5 km of paved roads have been built in the valleys, and a visitors’ center at the entrance, short boardwalks, several small viewing pavilions and new toilets have been installed. Horse and yak riding are also locally available. Travel within the site is restricted to walking or bus, and since 1999 low-polluting Green Buses accompanied by local guides have been used to ferry around the increasing number of large groups.

Scientific Research and Facilities

A Terrestrial Ecosystems Monitoring Site has been established in the valley and there are stations for monitoring forest pests and diseases and for meteorological observation. A scientific department manages research within the site, cooperation with other scientific institutes and universities and has drawn up a strategy for research into the challenges brought by rapid change. Nearly 100 papers have been published on the geology, geomorphology, hydrology, meteorology, biology, botany and environmental protection of Jiuzhaigou, including on the giant panda in the region.

Conservation Value

caption Shanhai Lake during autumn, one of the 114 lakes listed at Jiuzhaigou. (Source: Scottish Information Center)

The geomorphology resulting from glacial and tectonic activity are of interest and the valleys with their forested snow-capped mountains, karst landforms, numerous richly colored lakes, waterfalls, tufa shoals and the autumn display of leaves are aesthetically remarkable. The site supports a highly diverse flora and fauna, including a number of threatened species, and the Tibetan villages in the buffer zone add to its cultural interest.

Conservation Management

The Sichuan Provincial Commission for Construction has overall responsibility for the protection and administration of the site. The Administrative Bureau of Jiuzhaigou, which is subdivided into a number of departments including a Protection Section, Scientific Section, Construction Section and a police substation provides on-the-ground administration. In addition to national legislation, there are a number of relevant local regulations and government decrees. The management plan is based on these laws and contains specific regulations and proposals: 1) tree-cutting and logging with forest clearance and activities causing pollution are prohibited; and 2) the needs of the local Tibetan population are to be taken into full consideration.

It is the policy of the state to accelerate the development of the western region. This formerly meant maximizing extraction of timber, which supported most of the local administrations until first a lack of irrigation water downstream and then disastrous flooding led to a ban on commercial logging in 1998 and a turn towards sustainable forestry. State policy now emphasizes increasing the returns from tourism. A management goal set in 1992 has been to progressively transfer local residents from employment in agriculture to scenic area protection. This resettlement of the Tibetan villagers out of the reserve was controversial because they with their ancient culture were considered one of the attractions of the site. It is justified both to protect habitat for pandas but also by the prosperity which the new conditions have brought to the previously resistant inhabitants. Beginning in 1996, a five year plan was implemented to reduce the amount of agricultural land in the buffer zone. Tree-planting on all slopes steeper than 8% was mandated and one particular objective was to regenerate the forest in the heavily logged Zezhawa valley. By now the farmland within the site has become forest or grassland, the former residents receiving some compensation. Fire prevention and anti-pollution measures are included in the site management plan, and an overall plan for site construction and land stabilization has been drawn up by Chengdu Institute of Geography to protect the landscape. Most of 31 mud and rock flows and landslides examined in 1984 have already been brought under effective control, some with concrete protection.

An IUCN/WHC mission in 1998 found that the material and social conditions of the villagers had considerably improved under the partnership between local people and the reserve management, and economic benefits from tourism had eliminated the need for exploiting the natural resources physically. From 2001, all the hotels were closed or moved outside the site and no accommodation allowed within it. A comprehensive visitor management plan has been developed, emphasizing the need for adequate planning, environmental impact assessment, regulations, visitor education and staff training. An airfield and heliport are being built in Songpan County at Chuanzhu to be completed in 2003. A cooperation agreement with Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania was signed in 2001 to help the management share information and exchange experience.

Management Constraints

As the numbers of tourists increase, the threats of pollution, forest fires, erosion, development of intrusive facilities and the disturbance of rare species increase; and the guided bus tours themselves are essentially mass tourism. The construction of large new hotels just outside the buffer zone, has brought additional income to the Tibetan communities, but they are visually intrusive. The management plan includes provisions to deal with most of these problems but as visitor numbers grow, especially as road access from Chengdu is improved, and as the airport is within one hour's driving from the site, it will become increasingly important to set up a monitoring system for stricter control of pollution and building. It became necessary to control visitor numbers in 2001 to a quota based on the site's carrying capacity of 12,000 and entrance fees have been increased.

For some of the mammal species, notably giant panda and golden snub-nosed monkey, the site is not extensive enough without being connected to other reserves in the region, especially given the human population in the area and the increasing numbers of tourists. The MoF/WWF panda management plan of 1989 noted that the panda population formerly linked up along the valleys of Shabagou and Zarugou north-east of the reserve and with the other populations in Nanping and Pingwu counties. This connection had been cut by local people clearing the forest, while the panda population within the site had fallen due to heavy logging, continued human impact and the flowering and death of the Fargesia nitida bamboo in the 1970s. The report called for the resettlement of villagers outside the site and strict protection of the Jiuzhaigou-Baihe-Wujiao 'panda corridor', forbidding all logging, farming and human activities within it. This is considered to be essential to allow gene flow between otherwise isolated panda populations. In 1998 the IUCN/WHC mission team urged the Chinese authorities to implement the Committee's 1992 recommendation to link Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou World Heritage sites with some of the other reserves into a single Minshan Mountain World Heritage Area.


The reserve has 386 full-time employees, two-thirds of whom have university or high school education, and 730 part-time employees.


Funding comes from entrance fees. The annual budget is approximately Renminbi (RMB) 6,000,000.

IUCN Management Category

  • III (Natural Monument) Biosphere Reserve
  • Natural World Heritage Site inscribed in 1992. Natural Criterion iii

Further Reading

  • Anon. (1990). Dreams of Jiuzhaigou. Sichuan People's Publishing House, Chengdu, China. 126pp.
  • Dingwall, P. (1997) Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve .Mountain Protected Areas Update, March, 1997.
  • Fishpool, L. & Evans, M. (eds) (2001). Important Bird Areas in Africa and Associated Islands. Pisces Publications/ Birdlife International, Newbury & Cambridge, U.K. BLI Conservation Series No.11. ISBN: 187435720X
  • IUCN (2000). 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN, Gland,Switzerland/Cambridge,UK.
  • Ji, Z., Guangmei, Z., Huadong, W. & Jialin, X. (1990). The Natural History of China . William Collins & Sons and Co. Ltd., London, UK. 224 pp. ISBN: B000SOT540
  • MacKinnon, K. (1986). Survey to Determine the Status and Conservation Needs of the Snub-nosed Monkey in Sichuan Province, China. Unpublished WWF Project Report. 23 pp.
  • Ministry of Construction (MoC) (1991). World Heritage Convention, Natural Heritage: China. Jiuzhaigou Valley. Proposal for World Heritage Nomination. Beijing, China. 92 pp.
  • Ministry of Forestry (MoF) (1989). The Habitats of Giant Panda, Wolong, Tangjiahe, Wanglang Nature Reserves. Ministry of Forestry. Unpublished report. 24 pp.
  • MoF/WWF (1989). National Conservation Management Plan for the Giant Panda and its Habitat, Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi Provinces, The People's Republic of China. Joint Report of the Ministry of Forestry, Beijing, China and World Wide Fund for Nature, Gland, Switzerland. 157 pp.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Committee (1998). Report on the 22nd Session of the Committee. Kyoto.
  • Winkler, D.( 1998). The forests of the eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. A case study from Jiuzhaigou. Focus: Forest Management and Sustainability. Vol.47/48. Tubingen, F.R.G. Pp.184-210.
  • World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) (1991). Plants of China. Status report, November an important food for giant pandas, 1991, (Unpublished list). 110 pp.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2009). Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, China. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/153957


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