For a almost a century, nobody had seen a Sierra Nevada red fox in California’s Yosemite wilderness. In fact, there are perhaps 50 of the little red foxes, properly known as Vulpes vulpes necator, left on the entire continent, according to best estimates.
But remote motion sensing camera captured the two separate images of the rare, endangered critter; one snapped a photo in December and the other, in January. The National Park Service released the Dec. 13 image of fox just this week.
“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,” Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent, said in a statement. “National parks like Yosemite provide habitat for all wildlife and it is encouraging to see that the red fox was sighted in the park.”
Trotting through the snow, past some trees in the middle of the afternoon, this species hasn’t been spotted in this region of northern California in nearly 100 years.
Biologists trekked to a far northern area of the park to check on the critter cams they had previously set up. The Sonora Pass area north of the park has been home to verified sightings of the fox in the past. Each camera station also has hair snares nearby, which could help scientists collect a genetic analysis of the species in the park and how they are related – if at all – to the foxes in the Sonora Pass region.
“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,” Sarah Stock, wildlife biologist in Yosemite said in a 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.”
If you happen to be in the park and are lucky enough to see a Sierra Nevada red fox, be sure to report it. Here’s how and also how to tell the difference between it and other similar looking species such as the gray fox and coyote.