Absent from Yosemite National Park for a hundred years, at least to human eyes, the Sierra Nevada red fox has been caught on camera within park boundaries, to the delight of wildlife observers.
“We are thrilled to hear about the sighting of the Sierra Nevada red fox, one of the most rare and elusive animals in the Sierra Nevada,” said Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher in a statement from the National Park Service on January 28. “National parks like Yosemite provide habitat for all wildlife, and it is encouraging to see that the red fox was sighted in the park.”
There may only be 50 or fewer of this particular red fox species, and it could receive Endangered Species Act protection this year, according to Live Science. While the last verified sighting of this species inside the park was in 1916, that does not mean it hasn’t been there, one wildlife expert said.
"It's likely that the Sierra Nevada red fox has been in the backcountry of Yosemite in the last century, but they are rare enough and secretive enough that they haven't been encountered by anyone who has been able to document them," said Ben Sacks, director of the University of California, Davis Veterinary School's Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit to Live Science.
The Sierra Nevada red fox, Vulpes vulpes necator, should not be confused with the non-native red fox breeds that were introduced in the 1870s for hunting, fur farming and trapping purposes, says the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“There are dozens of subspecies of red fox and each subspecies has adapted to the special habitat and prey conditions within its range,” the department says on its web page about the foxes found in that state. “The range of the Sierra Nevada red fox is limited to the conifer forests and rugged alpine landscape of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges between 4,000 feet and 12,000 feet—mostly above 7,000 feet. The Sierra Nevada red fox is so uncommon that the California Fish and Game Commission declared it threatened in 1980.”
That made the sighting extra good news, and Yosemite biologists are attempting to determine whether the fox in question is a sign that its numbers are increasing, or if it is on the move from another area. The ongoing research to detect and study rare carnivores within the park is part of a larger study funded by the Yosemite Conservancy, the NPS said in its statement.
“Confirmation of the Sierra Nevada red fox in Yosemite National Park’s vast alpine wilderness provides an opportunity to join research partners in helping to protect this imperiled animal,” said Yosemite National Park Wildlife Biologist Sarah Stock in the park’s statement. “We’re excited to work across our boundary to join efforts with other researchers that will ultimately give these foxes the best chances for recovery.”