Two American scientists are none too pleased with China's plan for a critter called the pika: to mass-poison the furry little guy. The animal (which inspired the popular Pokemon character Pikachu) digs huge burrow-networks across the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in northwest China, the Independent reports. Officials have apparently spent more than $100 million over 50 years poisoning huge swaths of land trying to kill off the pika, saying it damages grasslands. But the US researchers, Andrew Smith and Maxwell Wilson, argue that pikas benefit the ecosystem. In the journal Ambio, they say pika burrows make great homes for birds that often disappear when pikas are poisoned and the burrows collapse, Scientific American reports.
Pika burrows also improve water infiltration, lowering the odds of surface flooding, especially in monsoon season, the authors say. What's more, killing pikas can leave local carnivores hungry and in turn affect human populations. So why are the Chinese doing it, and calling pikas "rats" in the China Daily? A 2006 report co-written by Smith likens the case to Americans poisoning black-tailed prairie dogs, creatures that also aid grassland diversity. The authors blame various problems, including an old belief that the "pests" degrade land and local officials who are under great pressure to act. "Scientists must take the next step of reaching out to policy makers," the article says, or "the value of our work for society will continue to be ignored." (Read about a rare gray wolf mistakenly shot in Utah.)