On Wednesday, Yosemite National Park directors announced the sighting of a rare Sierra Nevada red fox—the first confirmed sighting in the park in nearly 100 years. Following a five-day backcountry trip, wildlife biologists working for Yosemite documented two separate sightings of the fox using previously installed cameras fixed with special devices designed to extract hair samples from the animals. Both sightings took place within the past eight weeks—December 13 and January 4.
“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 press release. “National parks like Yosemite provide habitat for all wildlife and it is encouraging to see that the red fox was sighted in the park.”
The Sierra Nevada red fox of California is considered one of the rarest mammals on the continent; fewer than 50 exist. Verifiable sightings are reported a few times per decade. The nearest Sierra Nevada red fox sighting in recent memory was in the Sonora Pass area, north of the park. Wildlife biologists hope to determine whether the recently sighted foxes are related to these based on the hair samples they collected.
In 2010, Forest Service biologists attached a bag of chicken scraps to a trail camera near Sonora Pass. After seeing an animal bite the bag in the resulting pictures, they turned the bag over to wildlife geneticists at UC Davis. According to a statement released by the university, traces of saliva confirmed that the animal was indeed a Sierra Nevada red fox. The National Park Service stated that the last verified sighting in the region, prior to 2010, was two decades ago.