young bull elk watching

Elk may suddenly charge people.

Wildlife Alert

Never approach wild animals. Photograph all wildlife from the safety of your vehicle. Use telephoto lenses and observe quietly. It is dangerous, and illegal, to feed wild animals in a national park. Violators will be fined.

Wildlife can become dependent upon handouts and lose their ability to hunt and forage.

Such animals lose their fear of humans. They can become aggressive and bite, kick, or gore. Many are struck by cars while searching for handouts. Help us keep wildlife wild. Never feed or approach wildlife. Read More...

Pets must be on a leash at all times. Loose or feral pets often disturb or kill wildlife or their newborns. Protective wildlife parents can be aggressive and could harm you or you pet. Keep wildlife and your pets safe by observing the leash law.


Condor fledged in Grand Canyon, 2004

NPS Photo by Chad Olson

Life in the Canyon

Because of Its large size, relatively unfragmented and diverse habitat, and range of elevations and associated climates Grand Canyon National Park is a valuable wildlife preserve.

The Grand Canyon holds a diverse amount of habitat, nearly every habitat of the Southwestern United State save alpine tundra.

Montane forests cover the canyon rims and the Mohave Desert habitat can be found in the western reaches of the Grand Canyon.

From mouth of Salt Creek on the Tonto Trail, looking downriver

View downriver from mouth of Salt Creek

NPS photo by Kristen M. Caldon

Natural Setting

The Grand Canyon and its collection of side canyons cut through over a mile of rock, from the heights of 9,200 feet above sea-level on the North Rim down to 1,200 feet above sea level by the time the Colorado River reaches Lake Mead. With such a range in elevation and slope aspect, a multitude of habitats in which wildlife species can thrive have been established.

The Mojave Desert influences the western sections of the canyon, Sonoran Desert vegetation covers the eastern sections, and ponderosa and pinyon pine forests grow on both rims.


Natural seeps and springs percolating out of the canyon walls are home to 11% of all the plant species found in the Grand Canyon. The Canyon itself can act as a connection between the east and the west by providing corridors of appropriate habitat along its length.The canyon can also be a genetic barrier to some species, like tasseled eared squirrels.

The aspect, or direction a slope faces, also plays a major role in adding diversity to the Grand Canyon. North-facing slopes receive about one-third the normal amount of sunlight, so plants growing there are similar to plants found at higher elevations, or in more northern latitudes. The south-facing slopes receive the full amount of sunlight and are covered in vegetation typical of the Sonoran Desert.

The upper Sonoran Zone includes most of the inner canyon and South Rim at elevations from 3,500 to 7,000 feet. This zone is generally dominated by blackbrush, sagebrush scrub, and pinyon-juniper woodlands.

The dominant plant of the Mojave Desert Scrub community is the Four-winged Saltbush, Creosote bush and important associated plants include Utah agave, Narrowleaf mesquite, Ratany, Catclaw, and various cacti species. Usually dominant at elevations of 3,500 to 4,000 feet.

The South Rim is generally considered in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone and includes species such as gray fox, mule deer, bighorn sheep, rock squirrels, pinyon pine and Utah juniper.

The North Rim lies in the Boreal Zone. This zone includes the Kaibab Plateau at an elevation of over 8,250 to 9,000 feet. Mountain lions, Kaibab squirrels, northern goshawks, ponderosa pine and blue spruce are all species found here.

Seeps and springs emerging from the rims of Grand Canyon National Park are important to the region's natural heritage for several reasons: they provide critical water and food resources to wildlife and recreational hikers; they are important point sources of biodiversity and bioproductivity in otherwise low productivity desert landscapes; and they are the focus of human activities, regional history, and land and wildlife management.

Tasseled eared squirrels possess tufts or 'tassels" of hair extending beyond the tips of their ears. The Abert squirrel inhabits the South Rim and is peppered gray with white underparts, a narrow lateral stripe separates these colors. There is a dark chestnut or russet stripe present on the back.

The Kaibab squirrel inhabits the North Rim of the park and is found only on the Kaibab Plateau in northern Arizona. This squirrel has a black belly and white tail. As this is a unique species, it is afforded the special designation of a National Natural Landmark.


Wildlife Program

The Wildlife Program at Grand Canyon is as diverse and dynamic as the multiple life zones encompassed by the park. Five of North America’s seven life zones and three of the continent’s four desert types are represented here. The park provides habitat for 355 bird species, 89 mammalian species, and 56 reptile and amphibian species.

The mission of the Wildlife Program is to preserve and enhance native wildlife populations and processes and to minimize human impacts to native ecosystems. Wildlife biologists have embarked on research projects designed to increase our knowledge of the dynamics of wildlife communities within the park. Research ranges from monitoring the California condor, the largest bird in the country, to determining the species composition and demographic structure of the park’s small mammal communities.

Many studies focus on the interaction between human activity and wildlife communities in order to develop mitigation strategies to limit disturbance to biological resources. Biologists have tracked mountain lions on the South Rim since 2003 to relate patterns of lion movement to areas of human concentration. Biologists are studying habitat usage of bighorn sheep and Mexican spotted owls in areas frequented by visitors to the park.

The Wildlife Program has also developed an extensive monitoring protocol keyed to recreation areas along the Colorado River. The Fire Wildlife Biologist works with the Fire and Aviation program to insure that fire management activities are designed to improve wildlife habitat. The information gained through these activities enables the Division of Science and Resource Management to provide park management with recommendations that will sustain the ecological integrity of the Grand Canyon.


Approaching, feeding, hunting or removing wildlife from the park is against the law. A current state fishing license is required to catch fish. Special artificial lure regulations and bag limits apply to various stretches of the Colorado River.


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