• Blog
  • Living in Beijing Blogs

Go on a hutong safari and spot these urban critters

Thought you weren't living next door to a hutong weasel? Think again

Flickr/coniferconifer
In case you haven't looked out of your window today, we live in one of the biggest cities in the world; in fact, to the casual observer, Beijing might feel at times like a metropolis of concrete, glass, neon and noise, inhospitable to any kind of wildlife.

However, a little investigation and a dash of luck can prove our megacity is home to all manner of feathered, furry and scaly friends, tucked away in the shadows and living their lives in an almost alternate universe to Beijing's human inhabitants.

Most of these creatures are either shy or speedy, so next time you take a trip into the hutongs, slow your pace down and open your eyes – you might just get a sneaky urban surprise and a story about a close wildlife encounter likely to wow your friends.

Oh, and if you do spot anything particularly endearing, don't forget to send us your clandestine snaps using the hashtags #timeoutbeijing and #LoveBeijing. Now, go forth and take a walk on the wild side.
Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs

These rotund spikesters eat more or less anything they can get their paws on, trundling round after dark and spitting on themselves for reasons that are currently unknown but probably more than a little bit gross. If you spot a hog in Beijing, it's most likely an Amur hedgehog, which is native to the area and closely resembles the European variety familiar from childhood Beatrix Potter books but with lighter colouration. Animal lovers, take note: they've got pretty hopeless eyesight (and all should take a trip to Panjiayuan Glasses City) and might inadvertently jump out in front of you. Don't scream, and definitely don't squish one with your e-bike.

Geckos

Geckos

These charismatic miniature reptiles know how to make the most of summer in Beijing, bathing in rays on walls and rooftops throughout the city, but they're particularly at home down hutongs and on balconies. They've got a knack for wriggling their teeny bodies into houses and have sticky feet, so can scale walls like Spider-Man. Geckos, or bihu (壁虎), are pretty engaging – particularly if you don't get freaked out by the scuttling movements they make – and have military levels of camouflage, so slow right down and watch closely if you want to be in with a chance of spying one. They're insect assassins, and so incredibly useful in the summer-long battle against mosquitoes. Image: Flickr//k

Bats

Bats

They might be carriers of rabies and be unfairly affiliated with Dracula, but bats are way more appealing than their bad reputation might suggest; not only are they the one and only mammal capable of sustained flight and fly around at night using echolocation, but they're also a Chinese symbol of good luck, with bat motifs present in places as high-profile as the Forbidden City. Plus, at one point in Ye Olde England they were known as 'flittermice', which is both literal and adorable.


There's bundles of bat species living in Beijing, including the Beijing mouse-eared bat which can only be found in this part of China, and they're all nocturnal, swooping around after sunset to hoover up insects and generally stake their claim as one of the most dynamic beasties to make their home in the sky. Image: Flickr/batwrangler

Marmots

Marmots

These roly-poly groundhogs can be pretty elusive, so, unless you're Bill Murray, consider coming into contact with one a stroke of good and fluffy luck rather than an everyday occurrence. Typically found in grassland areas, marmots have made surprisingly effective inroads into the Northern Capital, where they chow down on ornamental flowerbeds, look like obese squirrels and generally act cute, shy and skittish. They're active in the daytime, heading back into their burrows to snooze at night, and communicate through a series of whistles. Image: Flickr/David

Azure-winged magpies

Azure-winged magpies

The humble magpie gets a Beijing upgrade with a dash of stunning blue on its tail and wings. Like all members of the crow family, this medium-sized bird is a cheeky chappie, with intelligence levels that might startle and confuse those of our readers that assumed birds couldn't be smart. Azure-winged magpies are incredibly vocal, with a distinctive caw, and very social; they don't really give a toss about humans, so are one of the easiest creatures to spot. Image: Flickr/Toshihiro Gamo

Hutong weasels

Hutong weasels

The mother lode of Beijing's street furries, these slinky yellow carnivores are dismissed by many newcomers to the city as an urban legend; if you see one for the first time without any build-up, as several erstwhile members of the Time Out team did, you'll probably assume either that you're hallucinating or that it's just a messed-up cat. Local lore says that it's bad luck to strike one, so don't be a dickhead. Hutong weasels are most active, in our experience, in the evening, so park your butt at an outdoor bar and keep your eyes peeled for one of the truly emblematic icons of our city. Image: Flickr/Marie Hale

Read more

  • 4 out of 5 stars
submit