TABUOSE PASS, California. – The critically endangered Sierra Nevada red fox has appeared in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains for the first time in almost a century. The region had not received a report of the species since the 1930s.
A network of wildlife cameras has captured the endangered carnivore roaming near the border between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. After the first sighting in April, cameras photographed the fox three more times.
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Officials thought this species of fox was extinct in the Sierra Nevada until they sighted a group in the central Sierra in 2010. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) made the new finds about 100 miles away.
“These new discoveries are very personally gratifying and a real reward for all the hard work our collaborators have put in,” said CDFW biologist Brian Hatfield in a press release. “From a conservation standpoint, this shows that the Sierra Nevada red fox is more widespread than previously thought.”
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The researchers said the findings point to a link between the two California populations.
California and the US Fish and Wildlife Service classified the population as Vulnerable in 2021. The service estimates that only 18 to 39 animals remain in the Sierra today.
Groups hired poop-sniffing dogs in 2021 to track down the rare feces. A researcher had been examining the feces since 2011.
In 2015, CDFW and its partners installed a series of survey cameras to get a better idea of alpine carnivore populations across the Sierra Mountains. According to the press release, workers have already hiked and skied “untold miles” to place and service the cameras.
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The service blames wildfires, drought, competition with coyotes, a decline in prey, and hybridization with non-native foxes for the sharp decline in numbers.
Living in mountains over 1.7 miles high, the creatures are smaller than most fox species. They are known for their fluffy paws and thick fur coat, which helps them survive the cold winters, explains the FWS. Males average 9.3 pounds, while females generally weigh around 7.3 pounds.
Although called red fox, individuals can also be black, drab, or a combination of the colors.
Another Sierra Nevada red fox population resides in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.