China's first nature reserve was the Dinghu Mountain Nature Reserve in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province established in 1956. By the end of 2003, some 1,551 nature reserves of various kinds have been set up throughout the country, covering a total area of 144.72 million hectares, and accounting for 14.4 percent of the total land territory. Protected through these nature reserves are 88 percent of the land eco-system types, 87 percent of the wildlife populations, 65 percent of the higher plant communities, nearly 20 percent of the natural forests, 50 percent of the marshland and wetland of the country, main habitats of more than 300 precious and endangered species of wild animals, and major areas where more than 130 precious varieties of trees are found.
The Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve is China's largest (covering a total area of 316,000 sq km), highest (averagely at over 4,000 meters above sea level) nature reserve with the most concentrated biodiversity. Established in August 2000, it is located in the central area of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, at the source of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers. A total investment of 220 million yuan in the Sanjiangyuan protection project has been made by the state. Yunnan Province has 157 nature reserves, the most in the country, covering a total area of 2.99 million ha. Twenty-two of China's nature reserves have been designated by UNESCO as "World Biosphere Reserves" with the most recent additions in 2003 of Wudalianchi, a site of mineral springs, caves and volcanoes about an hour north of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, and Yading, an area of high snowy mountains and pastures considered an epicenter of biodiversity within the new Three Parallel Rivers National Park and World Heritage Site in western Sichuan Province.