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article imageRare sighting of unbelievably cute Chinese Ili pika

By Stephen Morgan     Mar 22, 2015 in Environment
An extremely rare sighting of the incredibly cute, Chinese Ili pika, will hopefully bring world attention to the plight of this very elusive but also endangered species.
If it was 7ft and weighed 400 pounds, it would probably have become a legend like Big Foot or the Yeti. Like those legendary creatures, the Ili (Ochotona iliensis) lives in some of the most inhospitable regions of the world in the mountains of North-West China and has evaded the eyes of scientists for 20 years.
It was only discovered by accident in 1983 and classified as a new species three years later. It is such a reclusive animal that even local herdsmen hadn't seen it before when the first individual was captured.
The Ili pika was found by conservation biologist, Weidong Li of the Xinjiang Institute for Ecology and Geography.
Nature World News says it lives at high elevations - between 9,200 and 13,450 feet (2,800 to 4,100 meters) in the precarious cracks and crevices of rock cliffs in the Tian Shan Mountains in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Its diet is mainly grasses, herbs and mountain plants. However, that's about all that is known of their behavior and ecology. Nobody has ever even heard its vocalizations.
There are other species of pikas such as those found in North America, but the Chinese is the most mysterious and seclusive. In fact, only 29 live specimens have ever been seen.
According to Earth Touch News Network, it weighs up to 250 grams and is about 8 inches or 20 cm long. While it looks a little like a koala bear, the beautiful little thing is a lagomorph, meaning that its closest relatives are rabbits and hares.
In the 1990's, it was estimated that there were about 2,000 alive in the region. However, it is feared that the numbers are dwindling swiftly.
Earth Touch News Network said that in 2005, Li estimated "the entire species was contained within a 20,000 square kilometre region, though only 17% of that space contained suitable habitat."
"In only one region were there signs of presence abundant and equal to earlier censuses of the Ili pika," wrote Li. Altogether, the pikas had disappeared from nearly 60% of their known range."
National Geographic says that,
"Grazing pressure from livestock and air pollution have likely contributed to the decline in the Ili pika, which IUCN lists as vulnerable to extinction. China considers the species endangered."
Li said that, at the moment, there were no concerted efforts going on to protect the species, but he hopes to change that soon.
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