Back during a week devoted to small furry herbivores, Ferrebeekeeper sketched in the general outlines of pikas—close relatives of rabbits. Pikas live in the mountains among high cliffs and alpine meadows where they practice a sort of rudimentary farming. They collect hay in order to dry and store it for the harsh mountain winters. You can read the general natural history here, however today we concentrate on a specific species of pika–the Ili pika (Ochotona iliensis) of northwest China. In 1983, a team of biologists and natural scientists discovered Ili pika in the rough and arid mountain terrain of western Xinjiang province. Then the animal was then not seen or documented by science again until last year (2014).
During the intervening years nobody necessarily thought the Ili pika was extinct (unlike the Gilbert’s potoroo which was thought to be deceased until rediscovered against all hope), instead the pika was not seen because almost nobody went into the remote mountain fastnesses where it lives. Having said that, almost nothing is known about the Ili pika. It was rediscovered in the bleak Tian Shan mountains but conservationists fear that it may have been extirpated from the Jilimalale and Hutubi mountains (even bleaker mountains which are subject to human resource extraction).
Although we know little about the behavior or ecology of the Ili pika, we have pictures of it, and it is exceedingly adorable—like a cross between a terrier, a rabbit, and a tiny sage. It seems to have all of the charisma of the panda, the golden pheasant, the tragic baiji, and the gibbon. Perhaps Chinese mythmakers and cultural arbiters could surreptitiously slip it into the folklore pantheon. I would love to read some stories starring the Ili pika as a trickster or a magical mountain wise man.