"We are thrilled to hear about the sighting of the Sierra Nevada red fox, one of the most rare and elusive animals in the Sierra Nevada," Yosemite National Park superintendent Don Neubacher said in a news release, which failed to mention how adorable the fox was, though this was perhaps because it was implied. "National parks like Yosemite provide habitat for all wildlife and it is encouraging to see that the red fox was sighted in the park."
Motion-sensitive cameras captured pictures of the animal roaming in the northern portion of Yosemite on Dec. 13 and Jan. 4, according to the National Park Service. Crews have set up "hair snare stations" in the area as well and hope to be able to perform genetic analysis that will help them learn more about the fox population.
Sierra Nevada red foxes (Vulpes vulpes necator) are smaller than other members of the fox population, and have darker fur. NPS officials estimate that there are fewer than 50 Sierra Nevada red foxes in North America, making it "one of the rarest mammals" on the continent.
The documented sightings, in Yosemite's "vast alpine wilderness," thrilled the park's scientists, who plan to work with other research partners "in helping to protect this imperiled animal," Sarah Stock, a Yosemite wildlife biologist, said in a statement. "We're excited to work across our boundary to join efforts with other researchers that will ultimately give these foxes the best chances for recovery."
The NPS noted that state and federal biologists "have been monitoring a small Sierra Nevada red fox population" north of the park, in the Sonora Pass area, since 2010. The last verified sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox in the region prior to that came two decades ago, the NPS said.
The red fox sighting comes a few months after a gray wolf was spotted near the north rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time in decades. This is a thing I'm bringing up because I wrote about it, and then the grey wolf was later believed to be shot, and I really don't want anything bad to happen to this Sierra Nevada red fox. Everyone (and everything) keep your distance.