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Rare Red Fox Reappears in Yosemite Park after Disappeared for Almost 100 Years

red fox

Image credit: NPS

For the first time in nearly a century, existence of the Sierra Nevada red fox, one of the rarest mammals in North America has been confirmed by Yosemite National Park. It is understandable that the park officials are very happy with such observation.

In a statement, Don Neubacher, park superintendent said, they were amazed to know the existence of Sierra Nevada red fox in the park, which, like other national parks, is able to offer suitable habitat for all types of wildlife. It is encouraging to observe the sighting of the red fox there.

The animal was observed twice separately by the motion-sensitive cameras installed in the far northern corner of the park, the first was reported on December 13, 2014 and the second was dated on January 4, These sightings of the Sierra Nevada red fox are e the first ones confirmed within the park since 1916, at that time, two animals were killed for a museum.

The Sierra Nevada red fox, namely Vulpes vulpes necator in technical term, is one of ten red fox subspecies inhabiting in North America, and it also belongs to the three subspecies of “mountain red fox.”

Although it is said that there are only 50 individuals left in the wild, their current distribution and population size of these animals remain unclearly known, which make the California Department of Fish and Game believe that they are critically endangered. Now the Department is considering whether they should be put under protection in the line of the Endangered Species Act later this year.

Recently the most sightings have been captures in the Lassen Peak region, which leads conservationists to wonder whether the subspecies are having their existence beyond this region. Even though ten sightings have been reported in Yosemite National Park since 1977, it has been not possible to identify that the animals were really Sierra Nevada red foxes, since no available photographs or voucher specimens could confirm them, it meant that it could have been a different animal with a similar appearance, for example, the gray fox.

Although there are some different ideas about Sierra Nevada red foxes, it is not clear about the reason that the population of this subspecies has suffered to such a large extent. People would have trapped and hunted such animals for their fur, but it is not confirmative enough to greatly reduce the population if the low numbers of annual killings is taken into account. One popular idea has attributed this phenomenon to the human activities, for instance, livestock overgrazing the land in which they should inhabit, which would decrease their prey available for their living. Another reason for it is that they were outcompeted by other animals, like coyotes, or suffered loss owing to inbreeding.

Thanks to the confirmed sighting in the park, members of the Yosemite carnivore crew will be continuously engaged in survey of the animal by application of installed cameras. In addition, they would deploy some devices so as to collect hair samples from the animals that have passed; therefore genetic analyses could be implemented. Given that any hairs could be captured from the Sierra Nevada red fox, researchers might be capable of  having a better understanding of the diversity of the population.

[Via National Park ServiceSierra Nevada Red Fox Conservation AssessmentLive Scienceand io9)