Even as many populations shrink, scientists continue to stumble upon unbelievable animals.
The Ili pika is a tiny mammal native to the Tianshan Mountains in northwestern China. First discovered by accident in 1983, the animal has remained largely mysterious, despite the efforts of naturalists — until now.
The man who originally discovered the species decades ago, Weidong Li, finally struck gold last summer, and now National Geographic has published his terrific photo. Li, a scientist at the Xinjiang Institute for Ecology and Geography, led his team up a mountain and was confronted with exactly what he was looking for: the teddy bear face of a curious Ili pika, peeking around a rock.
"They found it hiding behind a rock, and they realized they had found the pika," Tatsuya Shin, a Chinese naturalist who works with the scientists, told National Geographic.
Listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Ili pika lives at high altitudes, making it sensitive to environmental or climatic changes. Conservationists say the population has been decreasing since it wasestimated to be just 2,000 in 1990. Despite its adorable look, there are no conservation efforts currently trying to save the Ili pika.