A rare Sierra Nevada red fox was spotted at Yosemite National Park on two separate occasions. Park officials confirmed the elusive fox was photographed using a remote motion-sensitive camera on December 13, 2014 and again on January 4, 2015. Wildlife officials said the small foxes are “one of the rarest mammals in North America.”
Historically, the Sierra Nevada red fox, or Vulpes vulpes necator, was well-represented throughout the California Cascades, northern Sierra Nevada, and the Sierra Crest. Unfortunately, their numbers have been reduced to near extinction.
Although the presence of native and non-native predators has increased, humans remain the Sierra Nevada red fox’s worst enemy. In the early 1900s, their population was greatly diminished, as they were hunted for their fur.
The foxes have also lost a large portion of their natural habitat, as the forests were reduced through logging and increased recreational activity.
— NationalParkService (@NatlParkService) January 29, 2015
Presently, a majority of the remaining Sierra Nevada red foxes live above 4,000 feet “in the subalpine zone and alpine fell-fields of the Sierra Nevada.”
As reported by Sierra Forest Legacy, a majority of the remaining population resides within the Lassen Volcanic National Park and Lassen National Forest. Although similar red foxes have been observed in the Sacramento Valley, they are actually subspecies of the Sierra Nevada red fox.
As their population continues to decline, the rare foxes are recognized as critically endangered by the California Fish and Game Commission, the California Department of Fish and Game, and The U.S. Forest Service. Although a previously unknown pack was discovered at Sonora Pass in 2010, the Sierra Nevada red fox had not been spotted at Yosemite National Park for 100 years.
In their official statement, National Park Service officials said they will continue to monitor their remote cameras for further sightings. Officials also placed “hair snare stations” near the cameras, as they hope to collect fur samples.
If they manage to collect the fur, it will be submitted for genetic analysis. Wildlife officials hope the DNA will help them determine whether the fox is related to the pack at Senora Pass.
Wildlife Biologist Sarah Stock said the confirmed sighting will allow park officials to work with other organizations to “protect this imperiled animal.”
“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.”
Although they believe they photographed the same Sierra Nevada red fox on both occasions, researchers are not ruling out the possibility that there are two foxes in Yosemite National Park.
[Image via Imgur]