Print out your copy of the Zion Mammal list
In Zion National Park, you may have the opportunity to see at least one or two furry creatures wandering along the river or scampering across slickrock. Zion is home to 68 species of mammal, ranging from the petite kangaroo rat to the sturdy, surefooted bighorn sheep. The most frequent mammal sightings are mule deer, foxes, bats, bighorn sheep, and rock squirrels.
The key to a good sighting is to know when and where to look. By day, mule deer and rock squirrels meander about on the canyon floor.
Rock squirrels prefer rocky terrain. They love canyon walls and riparian waterways. Look for rock squirrels frolicking and cooling off in sand baths along the Riverside Walk. Squirrels in Zion are fortunate to have a constant source of water, but even when they are away from a water source, they prove themselves to be hardy survivors. Rock squirrels have been observed in the desert surviving for up to one hundred days without water.
Another animal frequenting the Virgin River waterway, and a possible snapshot for the family photo album, may be a wobbly-legged mule deer fawn. Mule deer are one of the largest mammals, commonly seen in Zion Canyon. They are named for one of their greatest adaptations to desert heat, large mule-like ears. The advantage of carrying 9-inch ears atop your head in the desert, is that blood vessels close to the skin's surface help to dissipate heat on a hot summer’s day.
Although mule deer and rock squirrels are two mammals well adapted to Zion’s scorching summer temperatures, many other animals avoid the heat of the day altogether. A majority of the wildlife in Zion are nocturnal. By night, you may hear a coyote’s call, see the light quickly gleam in the eyes of a fox, or observe the nimble movements of a ringtail cat. Other charismatic animals, such as mountain lion, porcupine, skunk, raccoon, badger, bats, and beaver are all active under the cover of darkness.
The ringtail cat (a relative of the raccoon) is an abundant mammal in Zion. However, this small omnivore is rarely seen. They seldom emerge before total darkness. Using great skill and agility, they maneuver Zion’s high cliffs and balance on narrow ledges with the help of a long ringed tail.
Another agile animal, prowling around the higher plateaus of Zion, is the mountain lion. The mountain lion is the top predator in Zion and a very efficient hunter. This large, elusive cat silently stalks its prey and then secretly dines on its favorite foods-- mule deer or bighorn sheep.
Even though many of Zion’s mammals are nocturnal and rarely seen, once day breaks and we head out on the trails, evidence of their nightly adventures is still in sight. As you head out to Emerald Pools or Angel’s Landing, see if you can decipher the evidence. Many animals tend to use the same trails we do and are known to indiscreetly leave behind their scat and tracks. Why not pause, rest, and see if you can figure out who was prowling around before you.
Remember, squirrels and other rodents can carry disease. One should not attempt to pet a squirrel, even if it approaches you. All wildlife should be viewed and photographed from a safe distance.
Did You Know?
The Zion National Park Shuttle System, which debuted in 2000, has restored tranquility to Zion Canyon. More...