A nearly-extinct species of rare pika has finally showed up after having evading scientists for 20 years. Ili pika (Ochotona iliensis), a small mountain-dwelling mammal can be found in the Tianshan mountains in northwestern China. The cute little creature resembles a cuddling teddy bear.
Even though scientist knew Ili pika’s whereabouts it was very difficult to photograph it. Li Wei-Dong (Xinjiang Academy of Environmental Protection) and Andrew Smith (Arizona State University), two researchers, conducted an expedition in an attempt to find out more about Ili pika. But they were not successful: after 7 trips in 12 different sites and 37 days of effort they could not find anything until now.
The animal was first discovered in 1983 and it has been seen very rarely. Scientists have thought of adding it to the endangered species list. Overall only 29 Ili pikas have been spotted. Scientists still do not know the behavior and the ecology of this mammal. According to the conservationist Li Weidong, it seems that there are less than 1.000 creatures of this type dwelling in the Tianshan Mountains.
Li Weidong was the discoverer of the Ili pika. He rediscovered the animal in 2014 together with his colleagues at the Xinjiang Institute for Ecology and Geography. Tatsuya Shin, a member of the discoverer team of the pika explained that they found the animal hiding behind a rock. Li Weidong was the one who organized an expedition together with a group of researchers and went looking for the animal. The group spotted a pika that was curiously looking at them from a cliff. Li was quick enough and managed to take a photo of it. Now that the mammal was rediscovered, Li intends to build conservation areas for this species.
Li Weidong funds the research himself. He has spent almost $32,000 over the past three decades. The lack of funding does not bother him, but rather he is more upset about the fact that Ili pika is not officially recognized. The Department for Wildlife and Forest Plants Protection declared that they are working on updating theirs list, but refused to offer further details.
The animal was listed as endangered by IUCN ( the International Union for Conservation of Nature), but according to Li, right now there is no team or any official organization dedicated to protecting and studying it.
Ili pika’s natural habitat is between 2,800 to 4,100 meters. The 20-centimeter-long animal lives on sloping bare rock. It mostly feeds on herbs, grass and other mountain herbs. Unfortunately, this animal together with other mountain dwellers are losing their habitat because of the climate changes and they are extremely sensitive to shifts in the environment. Li explained that owing to the rising temperature caused by the global warming glaciers have retreated. As a result the level of permanent snow has risen in the Tianshan mountains. Therefore the pikas are forced to retreat to mountain tops.
The fact that the mammal has nowhere to retreat is one problem. But there are also other concerns such as the fact that disease may contribute to their disappearance. Moreover, the pika is a solitary animal and this makes it vulnerable to predators.
Image Source: CNN Philippines