Nature Notes

Vol. III July 21st, 1925 No. 4


All of the National Parks are wild life sanctuaries in which the birds and animals live their own lives at peace with man and the others of their kind. This is true at least in the majority of cases. No hunting or trapping is permitted in the Park except that Rangers at times kill such predatory animals as cougar, coyote and bobcats, not with the idea of exterminating them but rather to keep them under control. On the other hand there are no animals within the region of which man has any reason to be afraid. No matter how powerful or capable of inflicting injury a buck deer, a bear or a mountain lion may be they are just as anxious to avoid trouble with the genus homo as are the Park visitors. Thus is kept the truce with man. Regardless of whether they practice the golden rule, wild animals in their normal habitat obey the ten commandments - at least no less an observer than Ernest Thompson Seton declares that they do and I am inclined to believe him. Certain it is that they obey them equally as well as do their human neighbors.

The varied wild life of the Park constitutes one of its chief attractions and it is doubtful if the memory of mountains, glaciers and wild flower fields remain as long in the memory of the park visitors as does the sight of elk or goat grazing on distant ridge or the chance encounter with deer or bear on the forest trails.

Small as the Park is, compared with the region of a similar nature surrounding it, practically every land form of animal life common to the Northwest is found within its boundaries. Fifty-four animals have been listed. Of these about one fourth would be classed as big gam animals and the other three-fourths as small animals - many of them rodents or gnawing animals.

Among these various forms of animals are found some interesting habits and characteristics. As stated above the bulk of the wild animal population is made up of rodents, such as the squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, beaver, and marmots whose food is largely vegetable. Next in point of numbers come the predatory animals or flesh eaters. These inclide the weasels, mink, marten, wild cats, coyote, bear and cougar. A third class lives almost exclusively on worms and insects. These include the moles that burrow beneath the ground for their food, the shrews that search the surface earth and water for similar diet, and the bats that comb the air above for their food.

The result of excessive competition in the search for food is well illustrated in this small order of insect eaters. Of the three representatives found in the Park one works below the surface, one at the surface and the other above it. And all are searching for the same sort of food. Of the horned and hoofed animals only three are found, the Western Elk, the Columbia Black-Tailed Deer and the White Mountain Goat. The deer and elk are dwellers of the lower forests where they are frequently seen, but the goat is a real mountaineer spending his entire life at timber-line or above in the company of little else save glaciers, crags and avalanches.

Most of the predatory animals are nocturnal in habits and are rarely seen even by the Rangers. Two of the smaller animals have a seasonal variation of color changing from their brown or yellow summer coat to one of pure white at the approach of the winter snows. With the Varying Hare, who is also provided with natural snowshoes in the form of large, hairy hind feet, the white winter coat serves to make him difficult to see by his numerous enemies, and with the weasel, who has few enemies, it serves to make it difficult for the intended victim to see him.

Winter is a season of food shortage for most animals and the methods used to overcome it are in resting. With some animals such as the bears, chipmunks, ground squirrels and marmots the situation is met by ignoring it. They hibernate or sleep all winter. Others such as the squirrel, the pack rats and the cony turn farmer and make hay all summer for winter food. The deer, elk and goat migrate to lower levels where the snow is not so deep and food may be found. The cougar, bobcat and wolves follow and prey upon these like swindlers upon emigrants. And still others, like a great man people, make no provision at all for the lean seasons, and like them, they suffer hardships as a result. Perhaps like some of them too, they blame the government for it.

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