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Snaking thousands of kilometres through the heart of China, the Yangtze has been the cradle of Chinese civilization for millennia. Today, the mighty river and its vast basin are struggling with numerous environmental problems arising from population pressure and rapid economic development. As the first international conservation organization in China, WWF is working to ensure that the Yangtze remains a living river.

The Yangtze River is home to some of China's most spectacular natural scenery. Three Gorges, China. rel= © Michel GUNTHER / WWF

China's Garden of Eden
From its headwaters fed by glaciers on the roof of the world, the Tibetan Plateau, the Yangtze River winds through deep mountain gorges and dense forests eastward to the mouth of the East China Sea.
The region's unique system of rivers and lakes, and mountain forests forms a garden of Eden, marked by rich biodiversity and wildlife.

The rivers support dwindling populations of such rare creatures as the Yangtze's river dolphin, finless porpoise and alligator. The lakes provide critical habitat for migratory birds, including 95% of the wintering Siberian crane population. And the forested mountains jetting out above the river are home to the country's iconic giant panda.

Taming the dragon

While the Yangtze river basin is one of the most significant ecosystems in the world, the region's unique environment is under threat.

Densely populated and heavily industrialized cities have led to high levels of pollution and habitat loss. Deforestation and loss of wetlands to agriculture have increasingly led to floods.

The Yangtze river basin is also threatened by dams, which alter that natural flow of the river.

Not just panda protection

Since coming to China in the 1960s to work on panda conservation, WWF is today on the ground in the Yangtze river basin to:

  • promote sustainable development
  • restore floodplains, lakes and wetlands
  • protect wildlife habitats and forests
  • improve livelihoods of people who have depended on the Yangtze for centuries
For conservation to be successful, local engagement and participation are essential. WWF is working with local authorities and communities on a number of projects throughout the region to help ensure a Living Yangtze.
Active in the country since 1980, WWF was the first international conservation organization invited ... 
© Zhang Yifei / WWF-China
Active in the country since 1980, WWF was the first international conservation organization invited to work in China.
© Zhang Yifei / WWF-China

Revitalizing Lake Hong

Where is the Yangtze Basin?
The Yangtze Basin is highlighted in green below.

View WWF Critical Regions of the World in a larger map

Last of the Yangtze River dolphins

 Qiqi, the only captive Yangtze River dolphin, which died in July 2002, Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. © WWF
Polluted waters, intensive fishing activity and busy shipping traffic along the Yangtze have all contributed to the demise of the Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji (Lipotes vexillifer).

The river dolphin once lived in the lower and middle reaches of the Yangtze River, Fuchun River, and in Dongting and Poyang lakes. About 100 were thought to survive in the middle reaches, but a 2006 survey failed to sight any individuals. The baiji is now considered functionally extinct.

Facts & Figures

  • The official name of the river in Chinese is Changjiang. The name "Yangtze" is only used for the lower reaches of the river, but became the official name used in the West.
  • Stretching for 6,300km, the Yangtze is the longest river in China and the 3rd longest in the world.
  • The Yangtze river basin covers nearly 180 million hectares, an area more than 4 times the size of the US state of California and 7 times the size of the UK.
  • The river basin accounts for: 40% of China's freshwater resources; more than 70% of the country’s rice production, 50% of its grain; more than 70% of fishery production; and 40% of China’s GDP.
  • Approximately 400 million people live along the Yangtze River and its 700 tributaries.
  • The region is known to support over 200 fish species, more than 84 mammal species, 60 amphibian species and 87 reptile species.
  • More than 800 lakes in the central Yangtze have been lost to land reclamation.