The small “Pika” is a mouse-like creature which inhabits various areas of China, and was the inspiration behind the legendary Pokemon “Pikachu” character.
Unfortunately, the Chinese government has classified this animal as a “pest”, and has been actively attempting to exterminate the entire Pika population since 1958.
It was in 1958 that the Chinese government gave themselves the authority to poison the Pika populations using large amounts of zinc phosphate. In the past 40-50 years, government officials poisoned nearly 360,000 square km of land, according to the Independent.
Now, with the population dwindling, the government has recently funneled another $35 million into Pika extermination programs, which are said to poison another 110,000 square km of land.
The government claims that the animal is a pest because they are said to destroy the areas that they inhabit. However, many researchers have disputed this notion, saying that the Pika migrates to areas that are already damaged, and then they are actually able to improve the local environment.
With approximately 20% of the world’s population living in its downstream watersheds, the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) is considered “Asia’s Water Tower.” However, grasslands of the QTP, where most of Asia’s great rivers originate, are becoming increasingly degraded, which leads to elevated population densities of a native small mammal, the plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae). As a result pikas have been characterized as a pest leading to wide-spread poisoning campaigns in an attempt to restore grassland quality. A contrary view is that pikas are a keystone species for biodiversity and that their burrowing activity provides a critical ecosystem service by increasing the infiltration rate of water, hence reducing overland flow. We demonstrate that poisoning plateau pikas significantly reduces infiltration rate of water across the QTP creating the potential for watershed-level impacts. Our results demonstrate the importance of burrowing mammals as ecosystem engineers, particularly with regard to their influence on hydrological functioning.
This practice was also fairly common in other areas of Asia until recently, when animal rights activists pressured their local governments to stop the extermination programs. As a result of this activism, the government in Mongolia was recently forced to stop its own extermination program.
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