One of the World's Cutest Animals Resurfaces
But the Ili pika faces threats to its survival
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Mar 29, 2015 6:16 AM CDT
A photo of the Ili Pika, taken by Li Weidong and courtesy of National Geographic.   (NationalGeographic.com/Photo by LI WEIDONG)

(Newser) – The Ili pika seems almost too cute to be real—but a newly released photo proves it does indeed still exist. Scientist Li Weidong and his team were lucky enough to spot one last July in China's Tianshan Mountains during a search, National Geographic reports. It was the first time in more than 20 years one had been seen. "They found it hiding behind a rock, and they realized they had found the pika," one of Li's colleagues says. Li discovered the roughly 8-inch-long creature in 1983 when he was studying infectious diseases near a Xinjiang Province mountain; he tells CNN the name he gave it is a nod to his hometown: Ili. "I sat down next to some rocks, and suddenly two bunny ears emerged from the crack of one of the rocks," he tells the BBC of that first discovery.

"The little thing was staring at me, blinking at me," he continues. "I thought it was the most beautiful and bizarre creature I'd ever seen." Fellow researchers noted that the species hadn't previously been identified, and even now, only 29 of the live animals have ever been seen; China classifies it as an endangered species. Indeed, over 37 days spent looking in 2002 and 2003, Li and his team were unable to find a single pika. Today, it faces challenges to its survival thanks to human encroachment on its habitat as well as air pollution, but as Carrie Arnold notes at National Geographic, "there are no concerted efforts under way to help the Ili pika." But Li hopes he can parlay the rediscovery into the creation of protected areas for it. And as Arnold quips, "How could anyone turn down a face like that?" (Another recently spotted rare find: a fanged deer.)