Fauna of Zion National Park - Mammals
Fauna of Zion National Park - Zion is in the Great Basin Desert; a cool desert where when it rains it does so in volumes. This seems like it would be adequate water for animals and plants to survive but the problem is that the soil cannot absorb all the moisture when it’s deposited in this manner, so it leaves the terrain dry. The small amount of snow fall this area gets provides moisture but still the hot, dry days lead to evaporation. Many Animals have learned to adapt to high temperatures and scarcity of water by staying active at night or burrowing into the ground during the hottest parts of the day. To appreciate the diversity of these creatures, one must understand they are quite adept at living through the winter as well as the hot summers.
Bighorn Sheep - Spotting Bighorn sheep in Zion is not extremely common, but in recent years they have ventured out to the east side of the park where they are occasionally now seen as you drive along in your car. The animal is usually seen along rocky slopes on the east side of the park, between the east side of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and about a mile east of the smaller tunnel. They usually travel in groups of less than eighteen. They don’t seem very fearful of humans, but if you get too close they do move higher on the mountain, knowing if we can follow it will be at a much slower pace than they travel. Their habitat is desert environments and steep rocky slopes. Ideal conditions exist in the valley behind Bridge Mountain, lower Parunuweap and the east side of the park. The sheep’s diet consists of shrubs and grass and they can go without water for more than 5 days. The male weighs around 300 lbs., a little less than the ewe. Both sexes have characteristic curved horns on their heads. There is evidence of Bighorn Sheep thriving in the park long ago. The rock art carved in Zion's Petroglyphs Canyon shows drawings of the Bighorn. The sheep are the most common wild animals pictured in the ancient petroglyphs in Utah. The ancients seemed to be dependent on these graceful creatures for food and they were apparently abundant at that time. Their curved horns were used for costumes, bows and tools. They became few in number, almost to the point of extinction, due to human impact by early settlers. In 1950 it was thought that there were no more living in Zion, but in recent years many of the Southwest's parks have been trying to reintroduce them and at least in Zion it seems to be quite successful.
Zion's Squirrels - The rock squirrel and white-tailed antelope ground squirrel are quite common in the park. Just about anyone that has hiked down the Riverside Walk has seen the fat squirrels along the path, begging for food. There is now a fine for those feeding the animals in the park. It makes the squirrels aggressive and also makes it difficult for them to survive in the wild. Be kind and do not feed them.
Mule Deer - This mammal is a common site in Zion Canyon, especially at the Temple of Sinawava and outside the canyon in the grassy field at the Zion Nature Center near the South Campground. When you see a mule deer notice how big its ears are and how their antlers branch and then branch again once more. In the winter, the animal sheds its antlers and within a couple of weeks begins to grow a new set.
Rabbits - The black-tailed jackrabbit has characteristically long ears that provide a large surface area to radiate body heat. This keeps the animal cooler during Zion’s hot summers since the warmed blood is circulated and cooled in the thin tissue of the ears. The fast moving hare can jump at 35 mph. The smaller desert cottontail is slower moving with a busy white tail. It will hold still when it feels it is in danger and then dart out looking for safety.
Mountain Lions -
Over seventy-five species of mammals are found in Zion, but the normally secretive and nocturnal Mountain Lion is seldom seen. Bo Beck, my hiking partner, and I were canyoneering in Kolob Canyon early in the season when we ran into a big one. The cat appeared as shocked as we were. We knew from the permit system that we were the first to do the canyon that year, so the cat was not use to seeing humans invading his territory. It was getting late in the day and we were rushing to get out of the canyon because I had spent a lot of time taking photos and the thunder and lightning has rolled in and it was starting to rain. Water was coming in from the side canyons and we were afraid we were going to be caught in a flash flood. Bo had been caught in a flash flood in Behunin during a training session with Zion’s Elite High Angle SAR Team and had no interest in seeing another one that close. Our wet suits were getting uncomfortable and we had jumped into the water below instead of setting up the last rappel to save time. We were about a half-mile from the safety of the exit, which is a grueling hillside scramble out of the canyon that canyoneers grumble about when the cat came around the corner of the narrow canyon. At first we were all startled, the cat included, at the unusual site – something that did not belong in our territory. Bo started to yell and throw rocks and the cat ran off and it was the last we saw of it. Perhaps we were too skinny to bother with, but I think the cat was actually more scared than we were. What a magnificent event even though after running through the final stages of that slot, the mountain lion seemed to be a minor obstacle in our pursuit to get out of there! After that, every time I visited a zoo I would look at the size of those mountain lions and wonder how it was afraid of the two of us. To date there has never been even one reported attack in Zion National Park. A friend however, Tim Tabor a Professor at Dixie College in St. George, left his daughter on a remote trail in Zion while he went ahead to scout out a trail and when he came back the girl was cowering in fear of a lion that seemed to have no fear of her at all. Luckily her dad showed up and the lion ran off. The next weekend Bo and I were in Orderville Canyon with Dean Kurtz, Kane County SAR Supervisor, and we followed a trail of bones through the later part of that canyon that looked like a cat had perhaps been there recently.
Zion National Park, Utah
History of the Thunderbird
This is my new favorite quote:
"I don't know who Tanya Milligan is, but I mean www.zionnational-park.com
It's a better site than the NPS's anyway."
Written by the authors of the book: Favorite Hikes in and around Zion National Park