This tiny mammal, the Ili pika, is native to a remote area of China. It doesn’t know that it’s an endangered species member, and neither do most people.
Conservationist Li Weidong says that these teddy bear-like creatures are rarer than the panda and even cuter than the panda. There are only about 1,000 of them in the Tianshan mountain range, Xinjiang, northwestern China.
In 1983, Li discovered the pika Ochotona Iliensis and named it Ili.
Li captured the rare creature in July 2014. Its numbers have dropped by 70%, he estimates.
According to Li, although the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the animal as endangered in 2008, there is no organization or team that studies or protects it.
This mammal is only 20 cm long. It lives on sloped bare rock faces and eats grasses at high altitudes. Global warming has affected the habitat of the pika, Li claims.
Li stated that rising temperatures have caused the glaciers to recede and the elevation of permanent snow to rise in the Tianshan Mountains. This has forced the pikas into a gradual retreat to the mountain tops.
He said that Ili pikas were first found at elevations of between 3,200 and 3,400 meters. They are now at elevations of 4,100m.
It is possible that disease could also play a role in the decline.
Nobody knew what the mammal was when Li first discovered it in 1983. Li discovered two more mammal species and declared it a new one two years later.
Li and his associates conducted many studies in the decade that followed, including a census at fourteen different locations.
Li, however, left Ili in 1992 to join Xinjiang Academy of Environmental Protection, the regional capital Urumqi.
In the ten years that followed, no studies were done on Ili pika. The pika was also not seen by anyone.
Li conducted a new census in 2002 and 2003 with the help of a group of volunteers. They returned empty-handed after spending 37 days in search of pikas in the mountains on seven trips.
Andrew Smith, a biologist at Arizona State University, and Li were able to determine that the Ili pika population has been in decline by analyzing snow tracks and droppings. They estimated that there could be as many as 2,000 mature animals, compared to 2,900 in the early 1990s.
In 2005, the research recommended that the animal be designated as endangered.
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