Endangered Spotlight: Ili Pika

Ili Pika / Ochotona iliensis
Current conservation status: Endangered
Population: Estimated 2,000 in early 1990s

Jacob W. Frank / Wikimedia Commons

Note: Because of copyright, the photos used in the post are of the related Collared Pika and not of the Ili Pika that is discussed. A photo available in in the article linked down below.

Never heard of the pika? It’s probably because this cute but rare Ili pika has only been spotted in the wild a few times (both times by the same person!). We wanted to celebrate this endangered small mammal with our modern Pika Backpack.


The word “pika” might remind most people of the sound a certain yellow electric mouse makes. In fact, Pikachu, the famous mascot of the Pokemon franchise, is loosely based of the real life mammal called the pika. Unlike Pikachu, however, pikas are not yellow or emit lightning bolts. One endangered species of pika, the Ili pika, has rarely been seen by humans and wasn’t even photographed until 2014 (more than 20 years since it was discovered).

The Ili pika is an endangered species native to the Tian Shan mountain range in northwestern China. The exact cause for their population decline is relatively unknown, but scientists attribute it to climate change and low population densities. Unfortunately, there are little to no conservation efforts for the Ili pika.


Li Weidong, a scientist at the Xinjiang Institute for Ecology and Geography, initially discover the Ili pika in 1983 when he went on a trip to the Xinjiang Province to study the area. While exploring, he saw the small animal between some cracks in the rocks. Neither he nor the people he was traveling with recognized the species, so he caught it and had it confirmed that it was indeed a new species of pika.

More than 20 years later, Li and a group volunteers returned to the mountain to look for the pika and while setting up camera traps, saw an Ili pika appear from a gap in the rocks. He quickly photographed the animal and successfully captured the first known images of the pika.


Because so little is known about the Ili pika, scientists can only speculate about what is causing the population decline based on observations.

  • Pollution – Pikas live in high altitudes and are highly sensitive to environment changes. One of the major causes thought to be hurting Ili pika population is pollution, resulting in climate change and global warming.
  • Grazing pressure – Overgrazing from animals like sheep and goats might have disrupted the Ili pika’s burrows or food sources.
  • Low population densities – Ili pikas have been observed to have low population densities, meaning there are not many in a given area.
  • Low reproduction rate – Litter sizes are relatively unknown but it is thought that Ili pikas only have one to two litters per year.

Conservation Efforts

As of now, there are no known conservation efforts to protect the Ili pika because they are so rare and illusive and are still unknown to most of the world. Despite more research being needed, groups can bring awareness to the small mammal and hopefully urge people to start organizations or programs dedicated to the Ili pika.

What Can You Do

Li and Andrew Smith, who co-wrote the journal “Dramatic decline of the threatened Ili pika Ochotona iliensis in Xinjiang, China” in 2005, urged for a recovery plan to prevent the possible extinction of the Ili pikas.

Although there aren’t any groups right now, you can help by starting one yourself or help to spread information about the Ili pika to other conservation groups.

Lian Law / National Park Service

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