TABOOSE PASS, Calif. – The endangered Sierra Nevada red fox appeared in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains for the first time in almost a century. The region had not had a report of the species since the 1930s.
A network of wildlife cameras caught the endangered carnivore prowling near the border of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. After the initial sighting in April, cameras pictured the fox three more times.
Officials thought this fox species had died out in the Sierra Nevada range until they made sightings of a group in 2010 in the central Sierra. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) made the new finds about 100 miles away.
"These new detections are very personally gratifying and is a real payoff for all the hard work our staff has put in," said CDFW biologist Brian Hatfield in a news release. "From a conservation standpoint, this shows that the Sierra Nevada Red Fox is more widely distributed than previously believed."
Researchers said that the detections suggest a connection between the two California populations.
California and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the population in the "endangered" category in 2021. The service estimates that only 18 to 39 animals exist in the Sierra today.
Groups hired scat-sniffing dogs in 2021 to sniff out the rare poop. A university researcher had been studying the scat since 2011.
In 2015, the CDFW and its partners installed a series of survey cameras to get a better idea of the populations of alpine carnivores across the Sierra range. According to the release, staff has already hiked and skied "countless miles" to place and service the cameras.
The creatures that live in the mountains above 1.7 miles high are smaller than most fox species. They are known for their fuzzy paws and thick fur coat, which helps them survive the frigid winters, states the FWS. Males average 9.3 pounds, while females are generally around 7.3 pounds.
Despite being named the red fox, individuals can also be black, gray-brown or a combination of the colors.
Another population of Sierra Nevada red fox live in Oregon's Cascade Mountains.