China might not be noted for its wildlife these days, but Sichuan still offers a handful of places and ways to see animals beyond the zoo variety.
If going down to your local park early in the morning to be among the senior citizens and their caged birds doesn't cut it for you, you could go on a more adventurous bird-watching journey with the Chengdu Bird Watching Society, a nearly decade-old organization that boasts more than 300 members. The group promotes bird watching as an activity and industry and works to protect birds and their habitats through research and education. Some members of this group are also heavily involved with China Bird Tour (www.chinabirdtour.com), which offers bird-watching tours around China in English.
The Chengdu Haichang Polar Ocean World 40,000-square-meter park is the only marine mammal park and oceanarium in west China include a dolphin plaza, polar bears, sea lions, walruses, penguins, seals, sea turtles, sharks, and an underwater world. Performances include the seal show in the Happy Theater and the half-hour dolphin and whale show.
The park is open daily, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. General admission: RMB130; seniors over the age of 60 (with ID), kids up to 1.5 meters, and those with disabilities: RMB70; children under 1.2 meters: free when accompanied by adult (1 child per paying adult).
China's Rare Insect Museum houses Asia's largest butterfly collection—700 species, covering a reported 95 percent of China's known species, are represented. Most of the 20,000 total insects on display were donated by museum head Zhao Li, who has spent the last two decades collecting rare insects, including various beetles, insects that closely resemble branches and leaves, and enormous and intricately patterned butterflies. As is often the case, signage leaves something to be desired, and not all species are labeled.
Take the bullet train to Qingcheng Shan (approx. 45 minutes/RMB15). From the Qingcheng Shan station, walk along the tourist path for approximately 1 km until you reach the Qingcheng Shan Tourist Center, near the main entrance to the mountain and the Howard Johnson Hotel. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 5 p.m. and entrance is free.
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 65 "animals".
Photos by Dan Sandoval.