Unbelievably Cute Mammal With Teddy Bear Face Rediscovered

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You could call it one of the world’s longest games of hide and seek.

For more than 20 years, the (Ochotona iliensis), a type of tiny, mountain-dwelling mammal with a teddy bear face, had eluded scientists in the Tianshan Mountains (map) of northwestern China.

People have seen the furry critter only a handful of times since it was discovered by accident in 1983.

In fact, people have spotted only 29 live individuals, and little is known about the animal’s ecology and behavior. (Also see “Newly Discovered Carnivore Looks Like Teddy Bear.”)

Then, in summer 2014, researchers rediscovered the pika.

This Ili pika was seen last summer in China's Tianshan Mountains -  Photograph by Li Weidong
This Ili pika was seen last summer in China’s Tianshan Mountains –
Photograph by Li Weidong

Weidong Li, the species’ original discoverer and a scientist at the Xinjiang Institute for Ecology and Geography, had gathered a group of volunteers in the Tianshan Mountains for some pika searching. At noon one day, as they were setting up camera traps, the team spotted their prize.

A curious pika emerged from a gap in the cliff face, and Li snapped a few photos (including the one above).

“They found it hiding behind a rock, and they realized they had found the pika. They were very excited,” said Tatsuya Shin, a naturalist in China who works with the pika’s discoverers.

Mountain High

In 1983, the Chinese government sent Li to the mountainous Xinjiang Province to study natural resources and infectious diseases. As Li explored a valley by Jilimalale Mountain, he saw a small, gray head sticking out from a crack in the rock. As he edged closer, Li got a look at its whole body.

The animal was about 8 inches (20 centimeters) long, with large ears and several small brown spots in its gray fur. Li wasn’t familiar with the species, nor were nearby herdsmen. Li caught a specimen and sent it to a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who said he believed the pika was a new species.

Although Li couldn’t find any more pikas on a second trip to the area in December 1983, a third trip in 1985 was more successful, and the additional specimens allowed academy researchers to confirm that the Ili pika was new to science.

Tiny and in Trouble

Like other species of pika found in North America, the Ili pika lives at high elevations—between 9,200 and 13,450 feet (2,800 to 4,100 meters)—and subsists mainly on grasses, herbs, and other mountain plants.

Like other high-dwelling creatures, the pika is sensitive to changes in its environment. A 1990s estimate put its population at about 2,000 individuals, and it’s believed to be decreasing in number, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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 . (Related: “Tiny, Rabbit-Like Animals Eating ‘Paper’ to Survive Global Warming.”)

Even so, there are no concerted efforts under way to help the Ili pika. Li said he hopes to change that, and use the rediscovery of the animal to create conservation areas for the species.

How could anyone turn down a face like that?

This article was first published by National Geographic on 19 Mar 2015.

 

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Supertrooper

Supertrooper

Founder and Executive Editor

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Tonia Vassila

So happy about this discovery but pls dont give information about their exact habitat not to be found by usually destructive and bloodlust humans

Tonia Vassila

You are so right, by revealing all whereabouts they put in a great danger these so precious critters.

Anne Grice

I wouldn't share this info!

Anne Grice

Please stop revealing any more info about this beautiful living being so that now disgusting company finds a use for its fur or body parts. Or ignorant hunters turn on them when they have killed every other species with their abhorrence. This adorable creature survived without this disgusting human race knowing about it so now please leave them alone!

Tim Baily

I believe in God but not religion because mankind controls religion. God gave mankind a beautiful planet to live on but through greed and war (mostly caused by religion) we are gradually destroying Gods paradise … I believe we have failed Gods test and are heading for extinction