You may not have heard of the American Pika. Pika are small little rodent relatives most closely related to rabbits, though they look chinchilla-esque. They're native to colder climates all over the world, including Asia, Europe and North America, and they tend to live on rocky mountain slopes where they can hide in small crevices. Because they are adapted to cold mountainsides, the pika are particularly at risk is the global climate warms, as changing temperatures could push them further and further up the slopes until they can go no higher. Indeed, studies have shown that the pika are traveling upward already.
I chose this animal for the weekly dose of cute because just last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that the pika did not need any special protection. A year ago, they agreed to assess the health of the pika and whether it needs protection under the Endangered Species Act when the Center for Biological Diversity slapped them with a lawsuit. In their press release, the Fish and Wildlife Service had this to say:
"We have completed an exhaustive review of the scientific information currently available regarding the status of the American pika and have analyzed the potential threats to the species. Based on this information, we have determined that the species as a whole will be able to survive despite increased temperatures in a majority of its range and is not in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.”
However, last month, author Wendee Holtcamp explained in an article for BioScience that mammals like the pika that have high metabolisms can overheat in temperatures as mild as 25 degrees C (77 degrees F) if they can't move to colder areas to regulate their temperature. Since the pikas are already near the tops of the mountains they live on, if they are forced to move upwards any more, they will have nowhere to go when it gets hotter.
Many believe the Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong not to extend greater protection to the pika, including scientists. In truth, there are less than half the number of pika that once roamed our mountains. As to whether the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision was right, only time will tell if the pika can really survive warmer climates, or if, indeed, they are on their way towards extinction in our lifetimes.