EXPLORE the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas with this slideshow, check the location map and get all the facts and information below.

Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas
Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas

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Location and Values: The Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas include 15 separate areas, grouped into eight clusters in the mountainous north-west of Yunnan province, near China’s border with Myanmar. The site includes steep gorges in the upper reaches of three of Asia’s great rivers (the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween, which flow in parallel steep gorges with a similar N-S alignment in this part of their course), and the surrounding high glaciated peaks. It spans a large portion of the Hengduan Mountains, which form a huge arc curving southwards into Indochina from the eastern end of the Himalayas, where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates collide. The area exhibits an astonishing variety of landscapes, ranging in elevation from 760m to 6,740m (with 118 peaks exceeding 5,000m), including steep river gorges, exuberant forests, glaciers, dramatic snow-clad mountain peaks, lakes and meadows. It’s location at the interface between the East Asia, Southeast Asia and Tibetan biogeographical realms, together with its physical characteristics and monsoon climate has resulted in exceptional levels of biodiversity, including large numbers of rare and endangered plants and animals.

Conservation Status and Prospects. According to IUCN’s Conservation Outlook Assessment (2020) the conservation status of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is of ‘significant concern’. The IUCN report notes that, while the 15 protected areas and their associated buffer zones are well protected, the site is likely to be significantly impacted by the development of major hydropower schemes outside its boundaries, with planned dam construction and water transfer schemes affecting all three major rivers. These developments will result in a significant landscape transformation with important impacts on ecological connectivity between the various components of the site and the ecosystem as a whole. On a more positive note, the IUCN report commends the recent closure of active mines within the site (and its buffer zone), as well as the permanent suspension of mineral exploration and extraction permits. Other ‘high level threats’ affecting the site include poaching, illegal wildlife trade and tensions between local communities and management authorities. This is a large and unusually complex serial site which requires a high level of management coordination and planning across its various component parts, which is not yet fully in place.

Google Earth
Official UNESCO Site Details
IUCN Conservation Outlook
UNEP-WCMC Site Description
Birdlife IBA

Slideshow description

The slideshow ‘tells the story’ of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas with a portfolio of photos that illustrate its landscape features and some of the typical plants and animals.  It starts with landscape views of the Jinsha (Yangtze) River’s spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge and its surrounding mountains, before covering some of the lower-lying temperate forest zones of the Gaoligong Mountain Nature Reserve. The final part of the slideshow provides views of the snow-capped jagged peaks and glaciers of the Baima-Meili Snow Mountains in the far north of the site.  Throughout the slideshow, some of the typical plants and animals are shown, including (in order of appearance) Tibetan macaque, forest musk deer, Blood pheasant, Sichuan Takin, Lady Amherst’s pheasant, red panda, Sclater’s Monal pheasant, snow leopard, Asiatic dhole, Ward’s trogon, Chinese grouse, clouded leopard, black snub-nosed monkey and Chinese goral.

The following Flickr photographers and other sources are acknowledged with thanks for their contributions to this slideshow (as credited in the watermark of each photo): Amir Korech, Jochen Hertweck, Nicholas Turland, Michael Mellinger, Andrew and Annemarie, Sonja Laukkanen, Fredrick Samuelsson, Tang Jun, David Cook, David Ells, Tiak, Mandenno Photography, Richard Jackson and Udaya Kumar Balasubran.  Note that some of the close-up photos of animals are from other locations (including animals in captivity), and these are included for illustrative purposes, as representatives of the species found in the area. In some cases, these may belong to different sub-species and/or vary slightly in appearance from individuals from the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas.


Website Category:
Tropical & Sub-tropical Forests
Area: 9,601 km2

Inscribed: 2003

UNESCO Criteria:

  • Exceptional natural phenomenon (vii);
  • Outstanding natural beauty (vii);
  • Geological features (viii);
  • Ecological processes (ix);
  • Natural habitat for biodiversity (x);
  • Significant number of rare, endemic and/or endangered species (x)

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