Rare Teddy Bear Photographed In China
by Kristy Hamilton
Photo credit: LI WEIDONG. The Ili pika (Ochotona iliensis) resembles a furry version of the Pokéman character Pikachu—and may be just as rare. This photograph was taken on July 9, 2014.
A rare Ili pika has popped out of hiding for the first time in over 20 years. Dubbed a “magic rabbit” by its finders, this adorable critter with a teddy bear-like face is native to the Tianshan Mountains of northwestern China. Unfortunately, the rarity of sighting has little to do with its location and more to do with the fact that the species is in danger of extinction. Only 2,000 of them are left in the wild, according to a 1990s estimate by the IUCN Red List.
If nothing else, this cute creature has a knack for hiding. Ili pika sightings are few and far between, with only 29 of them spotted in over three decades. Hence, when conservationist Weidong Li caught a glimpse of the wide-eyed mammal perched on a rock cliff face, he captured the moment with a few clicks of his camera.
However, this is isn’t the first time that Li has seen the creature: He first stumbled upon the animal in 1983, and two years later he caught one and it was officially declared a new species. The animal dwells at high elevations between 2,800 and 4,100 meters (9,200 and 13,450 feet), according to National Geographic, and primarily eats grasses, herbs, and other mountain plants.
A 2005 census estimates that the Ili pika is no longer found at 57 percent of previously inhabited sites. “This tiny species could be extinct any time,” Li told CNN. “They don’t exist in the sites where they used to be anymore.” He added: “If it becomes extinct in front of me, I’ll feel so guilty.”
Their decline is likely due to grazing pressure from livestock and air pollution. Unfortunately, no known conservation measures are in place for the Ili pika. Li hopes his rediscovery will help spark the change needed to establish conservation areas for the species.