This cute little guy is an American pika, spotted this month in Rocky Mountain National Park by Estes Park photographer Erik Stensland. Pikas are about the size of hamsters and look a lot like mice but are actually related to rabbits.
All my life I’ve enjoyed their cheerful little squeaks when I’ve been in the high country. If lucky, I’d see one or two scurrying through the boulders, gathering grasses, flowers, etc., for their winter “haystacks.” So industrious. But they are creatures of the tundra, with metabolisms designed for cool or cold harsh weather at altitude. They can’t tolerate heat. They hide from it, unable to gather their winter stores. As a result, climate change/global warming has been either starving/killing them or driving them to higher areas. Eventually there will be no higher, cooler retreat and they will disappear entirely.
Pikas are already gone from around Lake Tahoe. And recent studies show they’ve also disappeared from the Black Rock Range in Nevada and from Zion National Park in Utah. A loss for visitors both human and predaceous.
Time marches on and I suppose I can’t expect “my” mountains to remain forever unchanged. But I grieve the loss of the creatures I love who have always populated my favorite places. It’s sad that someday in the not-so-distant future, if I can still get to the tundra regions, I won’t be greeted with faces like this: