Sardinian pika

Extinct in about early 1800's
  • Sardinian pika
  • Sardinian pika

New in our LOST ZOO: The very rare Sardinian pika

To the group of lagomorphs belong 3 families, 1. pikas in Central and East Asia and Western North America, 2. hares and rabbits, distributed almost all over the world, and 3. a very small family with only one species, the Sardinian pika. Only in the first moment, the 90 different species of lagomorphs look like rodents. But both groups are not related with each other and show some major differences. The lagomorphs have different to the rodents four incisors in the upper jaw and not only two. Besides these incisors have enamel on the front and back, whereas the rodents have enamel only on the front of their incisors.

Landscape of Sardinia island

Landscape of Sardinia island(Click to view larger image).

Different to most species of rodents, the hares and rabbits are loved by people. The European rabbit was first kept and domesticated in ancient Rome. Since the Middle Ages it has been extensively bred for food and later as a pet. It has been refined into a wide variety of breeds. Selective breeding has produced a range of sizes from dwarf to giant, which are kept as pets and food animals across the world. They have as much colour variation among themselves as other livestock and pet animals. Because of all these varieties domestic rabbits are a beloved animal species for livestock scientists like Dr. Yoishi Shoda.

Image painting of Dire wolf and Sabertooth cat Display of 404 dire wolf skulls found in the La Brea Tar Pits

White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"
(Click to view larger image).

The March Hare in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"
(Click to view larger image).

The first edition book of ‟Peter Rabbit” by  Beatrix Potter

The first edition book of ‟Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter
(Click to view larger image).

Besides rabbits are also one of the twelve celestial animals in the Chinese Zodiac for the Chinese calendar and anthropomorphized rabbits have appeared in films and literature like the White Rabbit and the March Hare in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as well as in Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit stories or the white rabbit Nijntje/Miffy, which was created by Dick Bruna in 1955.

‟Chouju-giga” which is famous oldest cartoon in Japan

‟Chouju-giga” which is famous oldest cartoon in Japan(Click to view larger image).

During the last months we tried to acquire for our Lost Zoo from North America some Ancient hares (Palaeolagus haydeni), which is essentially an Eocene version of our modern rabbits. Around 34-24 million years ago they populate the North American savanna woodlands, which have a temperate climate, sufficient amount of rainfalls and enough sunshine to promise a healthy growth for the grass, the food for the Ancient hare. On the other hand, this rich grassland can cause the Ancient hare to be less agile because it can be difficult for them to travel with their short hind legs which are incapable of hopping and the Ancient hare cannot ‬run as fast as modern rabbits. But when ‬the ecosystems changed to more open grasslands rather than forests, ‬this drove a shift towards faster herbivores, ‬and faster predators to hunt them. ‬Like many other animals that were not adapted to fast running, the Ancient hare became extinct around the start of ‬the Miocene.‬

Skeleton of Sardinian pika

Skeleton of Sardinian pika(Click to view larger image).

Instead of all our intentions and of the Ancient hare’s wide distribution in North America we could not get at the moment this animal as a new species for our Lost Zoo. But almost unbelievable, we succeeded to get a pair of the very rare Sardinian pika (Prolagus sardus). They are stout animals, with a length of about 25 cm and a weight of 500 g. The Sardinian pika is the only representative of a family which is just in between the pikas and the hares and rabbits and it is the only species of its family to survive till modern times. This cousin to the modern pikas, rabbits and hares is endemic to the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica. Only here this species can be found. It lives from sea level up to at least 800 m in different habitats whereby it could dig burrows.

American pika (upper side) are close related to Sardinian pika Colored pika are close related to Sardinian pika

American pika (upper side) are close related to Sardinian pika
(Click to view larger image).

Colored pika are close related to Sardinian pika
(Click to view larger image).

Written accounts and fossil remains show that the Sardinian pika was once abundant on their home islands. They were hunted by the people who arrived on the islands around 6,000 years ago, and may have been considered a delicacy. Since that time many factors contributed to the decline of the Sardinian pika which probably became extinct during the Roman times due to agricultural practices and the introduction of predators and ecological competitors. Another reason for its extinction may be the transmission of pathogens by rabbits and hares introduced to Sardinia and Corsica by the Romans. However, the species may have survived longer on small islands near Sardinia, perhaps up to until the 1770ies on the island of Tavolara which was uninhabited until about 1780.

Sardinian pika in LOST ZOO

Sardinian pika in LOST ZOO
(Click to view larger image).

However, it gives the rumor that the species survived in impassable mountains and valleys. With good luck we succeeded now to get one pair of this rare species which is a cousin to all our rabbits and hares as well as to the pikas. In our Lost Zoo the Sardinian pika lives now in a savannah type enclosure with several rocks and smaller caves to reproduce for the visitor the illusion of the Mediterranean landscape of the island of Sardinia.

Executive Curator

Sardinian pika

The Sardinian pika was endemic to the islands of Sardinia, Corsica and some smaller neighbouring islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Sardinian pika, the pikas, the hares and rabbits form in the zoological system the order Lagomorpha, which is closely related to the rodents, but differs in their teeth. Pikas and rabbits have four incisors in the upper jaw and have enamel on the front and back of the incisors, whereas rodents have only 2 incisors and the enamel only on the front side.

Body weight: 504-525 g

Body length: about 30 cm

Food: Pure vegetarian, especially grass.

Habitat: Grassland and shrub land from the sea level up to 800 m in habitats where the pika can dig its burrow.

Extinction: The Sardinian pika became extinct in Corsica and Sardinia during the Roman times, but survived until the late 1700s or early 1800s on the small island of Tavolara, which was uninhabited until 1780. It became extinct because of habitat destruction and introduction of dogs and cats and of ecological competitors like rodents and rabbits.

Sardinian pika