Zion National Park isn't roamed by bison or wolves, but it does have a surprising amount of wildlife that calls the landscape home.
Sitting at the boundaries and meeting points of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, Basin and Range, and Mojave Desert physio-geographic zones, animal life in Zion National Park is vast and varied.
With elevations ranging from roughly 3,800 feet to 8,800 feet, the park encompasses 5,000 feet of elevation change in 148,000 acres. With so many varying heights and resultant microclimates and habitats, it is no surprise that Zion is home to over 78 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 8 species of fish.
Among the animals that call the park home are mule deer, which in turn are prey for mountain lions. 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.
A resident uncommon to most visitors, but very common to the park, is the ringtail cat. This creature, a relative of the raccoon, 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.
Masters in the art of desert heat evasion, many animals take to burrows or dens in the heat of the day, or choose to be nocturnal so they can roam the landscape in cooler temperatures. 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.
Though all the animals in Zion are protected by its "national park" designation, some animals are of special note. Zion is critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, a species classified as threatened on the federal level. A small population of Mojave Desert tortoises is being monitored, along with the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Two other bird species to watch for in Zion, the peregrine falcon and California condor, are once again on the rise in numbers after many years of vast population losses.
In prehistoric times, California condors flew over much of the U.S., but by 1982, the world population dwindled to 22 individuals. The last remaining wild condors were captured in the 1980s and, following the successful programs initiated to recover the once-endangered peregrine falcon, a captive breeding program was begun to protect this bird from extinction.
The California condor is slowly coming back. During the last three decades, captive-bred birds have been released in California, Baja California, and the Vermillion Cliffs of northern Arizona. Condors are now breeding successfully in the wild - pairs of birds mate for life and produce only one egg every other year. The world population count inches up and down at around 400, approximately half of which are flying free in the wild.
Roughly 70 condors live wild in Arizona and Utah, and Zion rests in the middle of this realm. Here, among canyons, plateaus, and miles of sky, the bird's rare presence has never been taken for granted. On many an ordinary morning, this primeval avian gracefully ascends the temperate air columns to skirt sandstone cliffs under the watchful and hopeful eyes of grateful visitors.
California condors are curious and attracted to human activity. They are frequently seen in Zion perched on or soaring above Angels Landing, and on the Kolob Terrace Road near Lava Point. If a bird is perched, do not approach it or offer food. If a condor is within reach of people, please report the situation - including the bird's tag number - to park staff.