american pikas

Dhruvika writes on sustainable practices in various sectors for BuzzOnEarth. Get in touch with her at dhruvika@buzzonearth.com. Sometimes she reads her emails too.

Polar bears are not the only animals on the verge of extinction due to climate change. Pikas are also suffering from the heat. The hot climate is responsible for the rapid decrease in the population of these cute little mammals. Yet, the pikas have been denied protections under the Endangered Species Act twice.

What Kind of Animal is Pika?

It’s surprising how everyone remembers Pikachu but not many people are aware of pikas, the inspiration behind the iconic electric pokemon. The American pikas are as adorable as Pikachu. An American pika resembles a rodent with its tiny body and rat face. But do not get fooled by their appearance. Pikas are actually related to hares and rabbits.

There are 29 species of pikas and only two of those reside in North America. The alpine terrains above treeline in North America and some parts of Asia are home to the Pikas. They are adapted to living in the very harsh environment. American pikas live on the treeless slopes of the mountains called talus where it’s difficult to find any other animal. During warm weather, they shift to the upper cold part of the mountains.

american pika
Pikas are adapted to live on the cold mountain slopes called talus

Pikas are herbivores. They eat grasses, weeds and flowers that grow on mountains. For winter, they carry mouthfuls of food and lay them in sun to dry them off and then they store it in their den as there is not much growth during winter. Although they spend most of the winter inside their dens, they do not hibernate.

Pikas are social creatures. They live in colonies and give warning calls to protect other pikas from predators like coyotes, hawk and weasels. On the other hand, funnily enough, they are extremely territorial and do not allow other pikas into their dens.

Why are Pikas Disappearing?

American pikas are in dire straits! Due to climate change, the mountain slopes taluses are becoming more hotter and drier. The snow level is receding. The thick fur of the pikas is naturally designed for cold climate. So, they are forced to climb upslope to escape the high temperature. As they already live on high talus, they have simply nowhere to go.

In many regions of America, pikas population has completely vanished. Quarter of their population has disappeared in the Great Basin. The global warming is responsible severely affecting the habitat of the fragile creature.

The high evidence of the threat to the pikas failed to list the species as endangered. In 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service denied the pika protections under the Endangered Species Act, arguing that the species as a whole will be able to survive as a whole in the future. In 2016, FWS again refused to list pikas as endangered as there was not enough new scientific evidence to support the petition. No animal has moved to the endangered list based on the threat of climate change alone. Not even the polar bear!

But ecologists and scientists are repeatedly claiming that the tiny pikas are at a risk of going extinct due to climate change on the basis of studies along with loads of evidence. According to a study at the University of Colorado, if the current trend continues, the pikas would be extinct within next hundred years.

“The Service’s recent denial of protection to the pika once again ignores the science showing it is in danger and ensures that these beautiful animals will continue to vanish from our western mountains,” said Shaye Wolf, the climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The future for the American ‘cute critters’ looks bleak. A few years from now, it would be our rabbits and hares if the trend continues. Can you imagine a planet without hares, rabbits and their lesser-known relatives, pikas? It looks lonely, doesn’t it?

 

Sources – Huffington Post, National Wildlife Federation

Image Credits – US National Park Service and Flickr

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