Endangered Easter Bunnies??

National Wildlife Federation:  “While I’m not one to despoil the fantasies of children by pointing out this weekend’s spokesbunny doesn’t exist, there is a very real threat that the American pika, the mountain bunny of the Rockies, could soon become a figment of our memory.”

Image: American pika

The American pika, a mountain-dwelling mammal in the West, does not do well in temperatures above 78 degrees.

I typically focus on what the science tells us about the catastrophic impacts humans face if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path.  If self-preservation won’t motivate us, whatever empathy we can muster for our furry friends surely can’t.

Still, last year, I thought the apparently ‘expendable’ pika deserved at least one blog post, after the Obama administration threw them under the bus, denying them Endangered Species Act protection (see “So long Pika, we hardly knew ya“).

Now it’s Earth week and Easter Sunday — and there’s a new study on the grim local extinction rates of the pika, as Brad Johnson reports:

New research published in Global Change Biology find that local populations of pikas “” each isolated on the upper reaches of different mountains “” are being extirpated by warming temperatures at an increasingly rapid rate. “Four of ten local pika extinctions have occurred since 1999,” the team of scientists from the American West found. The remaining pikas are being driven to higher and higher altitudes as global warming accelerates:

Local extinction rates of American pikas have increased nearly five-fold in the last 10 years, and the rate at which the climate-sensitive species is moving up mountain slopes has increased 11-fold since the 20th century, according to a study soon to be published in Global Change Biology.

What was the basis for the Obama admin’s decision about the pika?  Last year, MSNBC reported: “A copy of the decision listed on a federal Web site on Thursday says while some pika populations in the West are declining, others are not. The agency says Endangered Species Act protections are not warranted.”

This Earth Day, gaze lovingly at an endangered species.The abstract of the new study notes that “across this ecoregion the low-elevation range boundary for this species is now moving upslope at an average rate of about 145 m per decade.”

Keep climbing, Pika.  I’m sure there are enough tall mountains to ensure that a few of your populations don’t decline for a few more years.  But don’t worry, I’m sure when they are all in decline, they’ll put you on the list, though it probably won’t be very exclusive then (see “Bush launches Unendangered Species List“).

WWF has more on this “small flower-gathering relative of the rabbit,” a “canary in the coal mine,” for global warming because it is ill-suited for adapting to rapid climate change:

The pikas’ particular vulnerability to global warming is due to several factors. American pikas cannot easily migrate in response to climate change, as their habitat is currently restricted to small, disconnected habitat “islands” in numerous mountain ranges. Although talus within mountain ranges is often more continuous, this is not always the case; some ranges only have habitable talus at lower elevations or in broadly separated patches. Furthermore, American pikas generally do not appear to move large distances, as many individuals may spend their entire lifespan within a half-mile radius. Pikas do not inhabit burrows which could mitigate extreme temperatures and are highly active aboveground during the hottest months of the year. In the warmer months, pikas must cure vegetation for their overwinter survival as pikas are active year-round and food is scarce in winter in the alpine environment. Earlier maturation of vegetation associated with global warming may mean increased stress for pikas, and hotter temperatures during high activity periods can create direct thermal stress on the animals. Pikas are densely furred, and thus cannot dissipate heat easily.

We will always have zoos and pretty still photos! Oh, and videos, too:

13 Responses to Endangered Easter Bunnies??

  1. dhogaza says:

    Time for EarthJustice to drag this back in court on the behalf of some or another conservation organization …

  2. Anne says:

    Well, yes, and consider this, I think it can be safely postulated that the Easter bunny tradition, is, in and of itself, part of the very reason the furry little pika bunny is threatened. Christianity is widely known for “borrowing” the traditions of the so-called pagans — whose traditions were celebrations of the Earth and its wondrous changes from season to season. The summer and winter soltices were occasions for jubilation and expressions of appreciation for the relationship of Earth with the Sun, and, celebrations around fertility during the month of April, in former times dedicated to the anglo saxon goddess Eostre. “Heathens” engaged in song and dance and other forms of revelry in the deep woods with tall tree trunks (upright pales) that served as phallic symbols, and the highly revered female symbol of fertility, the egg – here’s where the rabbit comes in — they honored the rapid procreation of the furry creature while beckoning spring and the coming summer crops, all while lighting fires to bake cakes to sacrifice to the goddess of sex and fertility. Then, some how or other, leaping through the millennia to modern times — and putting aside for a moment the complex way that Christianity wove the rituals into the resurrection of Christ — our capitalistic, consumer-oriented culture turned this alluring set of pagan rituals and traditions into a milieu of essential store-bought items used just once then discarded, including colored eggs made of highly processed sugar not good for our attention-deficit children, baskets woven in China, petroleum-derived plastic grasses and ornaments, and a variety of other Easter paraphernalia that emits carbon and god (small g) knows what else, from cradle to grave, and litters our landscapes with yet more stuff (conjuring Annie Leonard) that we just don’t need. And that, my friends, is one very jaded lady’s view of Easter Sunday. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in a small clearing, deep in the woods, hoping a cute little furry bunny crosses my path.

  3. Sailesh Rao says:

    Re: #2 Anne: Well said! Even our ill patients have become “consumers” in our current culture, which the economist, Paul Krugman, found to be a shocking transformation:

    Perhaps, the next stage of awakening for economists like Krugman is when they realize that humans are not caterpillars, er… consumers.

  4. Theodore says:

    Perhaps they could be transplanted to mountains further north.

  5. Eli Rabett says:

    Charismatic microfauna:)

  6. Alteredstory says:


    You made me think of this song (Technically written by Rudyard Kipling of all people).

    “Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, or he would call it a sin,
    But we’ve been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring summer in,
    And we bring you good news by word of mouth, good news for cattle and corn:
    Now is the sun come up from the south, by Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.”

  7. Richard Brenne says:

    Anne (#2) – Beautifully said! I’ve enjoyed my friends the pikas while mountain climbing for four decades now, as well as their furrier and more American (in breadth) cousins the marmots.

    In 1972 a group of us camped alongside the Blue Glacier on Mt. Olympus in Washington for several days when we were climbing the Blue Glacier Icefall (the glacier had two such icefalls when we did what our leaders said was a first ascent; now it has one).

    When we returned from one day’s climb these fine furry fellows appeared to be carting stuff from out of our tents with small wheelbarrows, evidently using down booties as sleeping bags.

    Seeing them disappear saddens me a great deal and I’d donate any number of down booties if it would help them (although they’re not getting too cold, but hot).

    And how an oversized rabbit hiding plastic eggs holding surgary sweets and insulin syringes for our children who’ve upgraded from ADD to ADHD somehow represents the resurrection has been a bit of mystery to me.

  8. Eve says:

    It does look more like a squirrel than a rabbit but thank you for introducing me to another of the precious creatures with whom we share
    the earth. Please dont give up the struggle to wake people up. There is still hope – perhaps not for the pika but for the survival of life on this planet. Who know what awareness is growing under the surface
    and at what point a critical mass of people will become aware and
    begin to create and demand change. The development of countries like
    China, India and Brazil may lead not only to more carbon emissions but
    also to more and better education which could lead to breakthroughs in
    clean energy. Belated Happy Holidays to all

  9. Tony O'Brien says:

    I thought the 145 meters upslope movement per decade was a typo. I did not think it could not possibly be that great, but I checked the link and it was. Sorry for doubting you Joe.

    [JR: Hey, keep checking. Need all the help I can get!]

  10. Vic says:

    If we were headed into an ice age us humans would pull together to save the pikas and the bilbies.   
    We’d only have to build a couple of CFC factories. We’d get to see our success on TV.

    Where’s Jesus when you need him ?     

  11. Greg says:

    Because someone needs to add some geek to this blog:


  12. Roddy Campbell says:

    Scientific American Feb 5th 2010: “American pika can tolerate a wider range of temperatures and precipitation than previously thought,” the biologists wrote in a finding scheduled for publication next week in the Federal Register. “We have determined that climate change is not a threat at the species- or the subspecies-level now or in the foreseeable future.” August 2010: “To help us understand and forecast the potential impacts of climate change on pika populations in the western United States, we worked with NOAA to develop local-scale models to help predict the variables in surface temperatures that could affect pika populations.

    Using this information, we conducted a risk assessment to determine if increased surface temperatures would affect the pika and found that although the American pika could potentially be impacted by climate change, we believe the species as a whole will be able to survive despite higher temperatures in a majority of its range. We believe the pika will have enough high elevation habitat to ensure its long-term survival.

    Based on this information, we do not believe the American pika is in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.”

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