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Teddy Bear-Like Creature Faces New Threat After Pic Goes Viral

<p>Weidong Li/Wikimedia Commons<span></span></p>

The meteoric rise in internet popularity of this impossibly adorable animal could lead to his real-life downfall.

Ili pikas, as they're known, were discovered in 1983, inhabiting a mountainous region in northwestern China. For decades, the rare, elusive mammals stayed mostly out of sight, offering only fleeting glimpses of their sweet, furry faces to the few folks who were lucky enough to see them. But that's all changed, and not necessarily for the better.

Earlier this year, conservationist Li Weidong, who first identified the animals decades ago, snapped the clearest and cutest photo of an Ili pika in the wild, and it quickly went viral across the internet. Since then, Weidong says people have begun trying to catch them as pets, and that companies have offered him money for his help - a deadly trend that could wipe them out entirely.

"Ili pikas, as alpine animals, can't adapt to the environment at low elevations without special facilities," he told CNN. "Would they survive? Their population is already small enough. Human capture will accelerate the extinction."

Weidong says that the Ili pika population has already declined 70 percent in recent decades, and though the exact cause has yet to be determined, their popularity as potential pets isn't helping.

Sadly, this isn't the first time internet fame has proved detrimental to an entire species' survival.

Slow lorises, a small endangered primate native to Southeast Asia, were little-known worldwide prior to 2009 when a video of the animal being tickled went viral. Following that, there was a surge in people interested in having one as a pet.