The rare Sierra Nevada red fox has been sighted in Yosemite National Park for the first time in almost a century reports the National Park Service. It's speculated that there are fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the endangered species.
Wildlife biologists from the park had ventured five days into the backcountry to check on motion-sensitive cameras placed in the park's northern portion. Once there, they discovered that the cameras had twice picked up the fox, Vulpes vulpes necator. The first sighting was in December and the second was in January.
“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 Sarah Stock, a Wildlife Biologist in the park. “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.”
The fox is considered to be critically endangered by the California Department of Fish and Game, and was a victim of trapping for its desirable soft, red fur, until that was outlawed in the '80s (although pelt take had gone down sharply by the '70s). Red fox fur was sought after by trappers during the early 1900's as it was softer than those of grey foxes.
A nocturnal hunter, the fox's diet is predominantly mammals, mostly rodents and mule deer with the occasional bird and sometimes, when seasonally available, berries.
These Sierra Nevada red fox detections form part of a larger study funded by the Yosemite Conservancy that hopes to determine the existence and whereabouts of rare carnivores within the park boundary.The crew of biologists will continue to look for red foxes and other rare carnivores with remote cameras. They hope to add "hair snare" stations to gain genetic samples for analysis of the species biodiversity. This could let them determine, for example, how closely related the remaining red foxes are.