Sammy Nickalls
March 27, 2015 11:52 am

OK, guys. Get ready to squeal hardcore, because we’ve got some serious adorableness for your eyeballs right now.

So what we’re pretty comfortable calling “the cutest animal IN THE ENTIRE WORLD” — pictured on the right — has essentially been playing “one of the world’s longest games of hide and seek,” as National Geographic put it. And though this little cuddler found a darn good hiding place (there have only been a handful spotted since the species was accidentally discovered back in 1983), we have finally found the Ili pika’s home. Even better, we now have the first images of the Ili pika taken in 20 years.

“The Ili pika? What’s an Ili pika?” Well we’re so glad you asked. It’s only a totally adorbs mammal that looks like a cross between a teddy bear, a rabbit, and cuteness itself. Some are even calling it a “magic bunny.”

The pictures taken this time around were snapped by Weidong Li from Xinjiang Institute for Ecology and Geography, who happens to be the same guy that discovered the species. Here he is pointing out where our new Ili pika friend was spotted.

Since he first spotted the Ili pika back in 1983, Li has been on a mission to study and protect them (there are only 1,000 of the species left . . . which is even less than the world population of pandas).

Li recounted his first time ever seeing the absolutely adorable endangered animal to the BBC, “I had been climbing a mountain for four hours, and was just catching my breath, when suddenly, I saw the shadow of a small creature running by. I sat down next to some rocks, and suddenly two bunny ears emerged from the crack of one of the rocks. The little thing was staring at me, blinking at me. I thought it was the most beautiful and bizarre creature I’d ever seen. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

I mean, that little face.

There are several different kinds of pikas, all of which are “small rabbit-like mammals with short limbs and round ears,” according to BBC. However, the Ili pika has totally different markings.

Previously, the Ili pika had only been seen 29 times ever, all in the Tianshan Mountains of northwestern China, according to National Geographic — and very little was known about the species’ habits. However, that all changed this past summer, when Li searched the mountains with a group of volunteers and spotted the cute little teddy-bear face poking out its little nose through a gap in the cliff face. It was the up-close look they’d been waiting for.

Unfortunately, the Ili pika is in trouble. Since it lives in high elevations in the mountains, it’s very sensitive to environmental changes — and the population is decreasing. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there were only approximately 2000 Ili pikas back in the 1990s. Now, there are less than 1,000.

Worse still: the Ili pikas are solitary and relatively quiet, so they aren’t able to alert each other if predators are close, according to Li.

“The Ili pikas all live on isolated mountain tops, so their habitats are highly fragmented,” Li told the BBC. “Losing even one is detrimental for the entire group.” Unfortunately, there are no official organizations or groups dedicated to protecting the Ili pika.

However, now that these images have gone viral, we’re hoping for increased conservation efforts. I mean, how can you NOT want to protect that adorable little face? Li confirmed that there has been an outpouring of support, telling the BBC: “Many people have written to me to say they want to help me protect the pikas. But more attention also means more danger for them . . . We cannot let them disappear in front of our eyes.”

We’ll call this just another example of the beauty of nature and how important it is to protect all of earth’s glorious creatures, including these little cuties.

Images via, via