Black pika sighted in Arunachal - WWF-India research team stumbles upon rare mammal at 13000ft

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  • Published 15.07.11

Guwahati, July 14: A team of WWF-India officials working in West Kameng district of Arunchal Pradesh has stumbled upon a rare species of mammals that, till now, was believed to be endemic to Yunan province of China.

The black pika (ochotona nigritia), a close cousin of rabbits and hares, is a small mammal with short limbs, rounded ears, a short tail and, as the name suggests, is covered in black fur. Another distinctive feature of the pika is its high-pitched distress call, which it makes when diving into its borrow on being threatened by predators. It was discovered in China in 2000.

The divisional forest officer of Bomdila, Surabhi Rai, while revealing that the mammal had been sighted for the first time in India, told The Telegraph, “The WWF team informed me about the discovery yesterday.”

She said the discovery would not only make the area important, but also open up endless opportunities for wildlife researchers. “Earlier, the mammal was thought to be found only in China, but now it has also been found here. This is an important discovery as it would provide more knowledge about the species,” she added.

The WWF members sighted two black pikas in Pangila and Potok areas at an altitude of 13,000 feet on June 22 and 23 while they, along with villagers of Thembang, were conducting surveys in the Thembang Bapu community-conserved forest area in West Kameng district. The survey was part of a project for development of a management plan of the area.

Senior landscape coordinator for the Western Arunachal Landscape Conservation Programme of WWF, Pijush Kumar Dutta, said, “We took photographs of the mammals, and after returning, consulted experts for identification of the species, based on its external features.”He said though the mammal discovered in Arunachal resembled the black pika found in China, genetic cross-examination was required to confirm whether it was the same black pika or a new sub-species.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has listed the black pika under the “data deficient” category since it is a relatively new discovery and there is still very little information on its extent of occurrence, status, threats and ecological requirements. There is also no data on the current population of black pikas in the world. “Like many of the smaller mammals living at high altitudes, the burrows which the black pika make to live in are used by other species like birds, reptiles and other smaller mammals,” Dutta said.

“ The pika also plays a key role as prey for various high altitude predators like birds of prey and small and large carnivores,” Dutta said.

The herbivorous pikas are members of ochotonidae, one of two families in the order lagomorpha, the other being the leporidae family (rabbits and hares).

Arunachal Pradesh, with the eastern Himalayan ranges extending into its western part and its wide range of endangered and endemic flora and fauna, is among the 200 globally important eco-regions of the world.

The western Arunachal landscape covers nearly 7,000 square km in the West Kameng and Tawang districts of the state. “Though the terrain is difficult, we are making new discoveries whenever we go out for exploration. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as we believe many more discoveries will follow,” Dutta said.