Mammals of all sizes make the Grand Canyon their home – many of which visitors to the Canyon can spot quite easily. Some of the more prominent mammals, like the burros, desert big horn sheep, mule deer and mountain lions, retain interesting stories tying them directly to the Grand Canyon.
Some are native to the area and a few were introduced. When talking non-native, we’re talking about Burros. Burros, native to North Africa, were used by miners in the Canyon. Miners left behind their work animals when the industry collapsed in the mid to late 1800’s and used the burros to pack mining material to bring out of the canyon. Burros proved themselves to be excellent workhorses as the habitat was perfect for the small equine. The population flourished and did well enough to threaten local farmers, so they were rounded up and either killed or transported out. Conservation groups have even contracted helicopters to spook the burros out of the canyon, but many believe the solution is a temporary one. Today, clever burros who managed to hang behind still populate the canyon.
Furry Fact: In 1979, after hearing about the plight of the burros in the Grand Canyon, the Cleveland Armory commissioned helicopters in an attempt to airlift the burros out of the Canyon and to safety. The entire event ended up being a two year project in which 577 burros were successfully airlifted out of the Grand Canyon, without harming any animals or people.
Big Horn Sheep
Big Horn Sheep are considered by many to be an iconic animal of the Grand Canyon. Their impressive horns and ability to scamper up steep cliffs make them one of the most unique herbivores found in the Grand Canyon. They can be difficult to spot with the naked eye as their coats blend in well with their surroundings, but if you look closely, they can be spotted, often precariously balancing on the edges of cliffs.
Big Horn Sheep thrive in the steep, rocky terrain and are well suited to the climate. They grow enormous, curved horns whose sole purpose is for showing off during mating season when bucks vie for female attention. They’ll spar by taking head on runs toward each other and crash forehead to forehead.
Furry Fact: While sparring, the crack the impact makes can be heard echoing through the canyon. It’s usually the sheep with the biggest set of horns that wins the day.
Mule Deer are the most conspicuous large mammal in the Grand Canyon. They have oversized ears, like a mule, and look very much like their cousins, the white tailed deer. They prefer wooded areas and are most often found in the higher elevations where hiding places and food are abundant.
Furry Fact: Male mule deer can be identified by their long antlers, which they shed in the winter months.
The Grand Canyon was host to an important study of mountain lions, run by now deceased biologist, Eric York. From 2003-2007, York tagged and tracked mountain lions in the Grand Canyon to gather information on range, mating, reproduction and mortality. Thanks to his study, much more is known about the lions today than ever before.
Mountain Lions are the largest and one of the most capable feline predators left in the United States. Hunted to near extinction, populations are increasing again and the Grand Canyon is home to a good number of them. They hunt over a wide range each day, stalking their prey before pouncing.
Furry Fact: Although it hasn’t happened in the Grand Canyon, Mountain Lions have killed humans in other parts of the United States, so never pursue one if you find yourself close and use the utmost caution when taking yourself out of a potentially dangerous encounter.
No visit to the Grand Canyon would be complete without encountering a couple of squirrels. Two types of squirrels inhabit the Grand Canyon – the Abert Squirrel and the Kaibab Squirrel. The Kaibab will only be found on the North Rim while the Abert inhabit the South Rim. Most of these squirrels have overcome any fear of humans and can be found mooching food from unsuspecting tourists throughout the park.
Did You Know? All wildlife in the Canyon is protected by law. While visitors are treated to fantastic viewing opportunities, you must not feed or engage the animals. The Grand Canyon is a sanctuary for wildlife. Following this rule will help protect you and the animals and will ensure a pleasurable trip to the Grand Canyon.