Conservationist Li Weidong manages to photograph rare Ili pika for the first time in 20 years

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Scientific American:

Meet the Ili pika (Ochotona iliensis), an endangered species that until last year, had not been seen in 20 years.

Discovered in 1983 and formally described three years later, the species had to wait another 10 years to be properly studied in its cliff-face homeland atop China’s Tian Shan Mountains in the northwest province of Xinjiang. In its 32 years on the record, just 29 individuals have been spotted, and it’s thought that the 2,000 or so adults estimated to exist back in the early 1990s has dwindled to less than half this, due to habitat loss and severely fragmented populations. A survey carried out between 2002 and 2003 turned up zero Ili pikas in 57 percent of the locations they’d been known to inhabit 20 years previously.

Needless to say, these little guys are in some serious trouble.

The image above was taken by Weidong Li from the Xinjiang Institute for Ecology and Geography, who had originally discovered the species. With a team of volunteers, Li had been scouring the mountains for signs of Ili pikas in early 2014, and as they were setting up their camera traps, they had an encounter with the curious fellow in the image above. “They found it hiding behind a rock, and they realised they had found the pika,” one of the team, Tatsuya Shin, told Carrie Arnold at National Geographic. “They were very excited.”

The Ili pika is one of the largest of the pika species, growing up to 250 grams and 20 centimetres long. Like other pika species, it’s evolved to live in cold climates, and makes its dens and burrows in the small crevices that cut into rocky mountainsides and cliff-faces. Pikas are known for the adorable peeps they make when they’re trying to communicate to each other, but for whatever reason, the Ili pika doesn’t seem to vocalise. (Although scientists have only seen 29 of them, so maybe they were just the quiet ones.)

Mrs. Pound, a Hong Kong fusion diner hidden behind a Chinese stamp shop front

Link

Ancient Buddhist caves in China could ‘turn to sand’

The Art Newspaper:

 

The network of 236 sandstone caves extend over an area of two to three kilometres in the vast, sparsely-populated autonomous Xinjiang region of China, along the ancient Silk Road

Urgent conservation work is needed to save a series of caves in northwest China containing ancient murals by Buddhist monks, which are threatened with destruction from the forces of nature.

The network of 236 sandstone caves extend over an area of two to three kilometres in the vast, sparsely-populated autonomous Xinjiang region of China, along the ancient Silk Road. The caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks and used as temples between the third and the eighth centuries, and are lined with murals providing a rich picture of early Buddhist culture.

The caves, known locally as Kezer, are prone to deterioration, particularly from moisture, because of their geological composition, which includes many soluble salts. Although the region is very dry, any rainwater could have “distastrous consequences”, according to Giorgio Bonsanti, an expert in wall painting preservation. He told our sister paper, Il Giornale dell’Arte, “the signs of progressive decay, which in the long term would turn everything to sand, are dramatically evident.”

Bonsanti said that there have been efforts to buttress the mountains with cement and horizontal metal poles, which anchor the external layers of stone to more solid rock, but these fortifications are proving insufficient in the bid to save the caves.

The murals are particularly significant because of their stylistic similarity to Indian, rather than classical Chinese, art, which bears witness to the transmission of Buddhism to China from the south. In the early 20th century, many of the paintings were removed by Western archaeologists, notably the German expedition of Albert von Le Coq in 1906, and are now housed in museums including the Museum für Asiatische Kunst in Berlin and the Musée Guimet in Paris.

Around 10,000 people visit the caves each year—a fraction of the 800,000 who visit the Mogao caves further east along the Silk Road, which became a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987.

Although the situation is serious and urgent, the caves are not beyond saving. Bonsanti says that “In this battle against fatal natural processes, man is destined to surrender eventually, but hopefully the end of Kezer will not yet be seen for many generations to come.”

 
The caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks and used as temples between the third and the eighth centuries, and are lined with murals providing a rich picture of early Buddhist culture
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