Fame poses new risk for China's 'magic rabbit'

Story highlights

  • Few knew about China's "magic rabbit" until pictures went viral this year
  • Rarer than a panda, it now faces a new threat: Human attention
  • Man who discovered species says reserve is needed to protect tiny mammal

Beijing (CNN)Rarer than a panda, few people knew about the Ili pika until earlier this year when pictures of China's "magic bunny" went viral after being featured in a series of news reports.

But now the tiny and endangered mammal is finding out the price of fame.
Conservationist Li Weidong, who discovered the species in 1983, lamented the lack of funding for his conservation efforts when first interviewed by CNN in March.
    He's since been able to raise almost $28,000 on a Chinese crowd-funding website, enough to fund his research and conservation efforts for the next year.
    But Li told CNN this week that the tiny mammal now faces other threats.
    People have tried to catch the pika, wanting one as a pet. Companies have offered Li funding to catch the pika and then artificially breed them, Li said.
    "Ili pikas, as alpine animals, can't adapt to the environment at low elevations without special facilities," he said.
    "Would they survive? Their population is already small enough. Human capture will accelerate the extinction."