Those who explored the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains in the early 1700s reported an abundance and variety of animals. As European settlers cleared the land, introduced domestic animals, and hunted native animals, the abundance and variety in species diminished. An unknown number of native species disappeared from the area, while populations of many other species dwindled. American bison were eliminated around 1798 and elk followed in 1855. Beaver and river otter disappeared in the late 1800s. Other species, including the eastern timber wolf, the eastern cougar, the white-tailed deer, turkey, black bear, and bobcats were either extirpated or declined drastically.
Fortunately, most of these species have now returned to the park either through re-introductions on lands elsewhere in Virginia or through natural population recovery. The designation and management of the area as a National Park provides refuge to both the resident animals and those that are passing through on their migrations.
Today, Shenandoah National Park is a great place to observe wildlife. Countless visitors spend hours watching deer snip and tear plants. Other people look for tracks and scat of bobcats, listen for the rustling of raccoons in the brush, and occasionally smell striped skunks. The grey squirrel, deer, groundhog, bear, and cottontail rabbit are more commonly seen mammals in the park.
Because close contact with people is frequent and hunting and trapping are prohibited, some animals appear almost tame. They are wild, however. Even beautiful brown-eyed deer will defend their young from harm. Their elegant legs are powerful and their hooves are sharp; facts some visitors insist on learning the hard way.