Should you encounter a bear in Yosemite, you can be sure of two things. Firstly, you probably didn’t secure your food well enough. Secondly, that bear is a black bear, and not a grizzly. Although the iconic bear still appears on California’s flag, a grizzly hasn’t been reported in the Golden State since the 1920s. On the other hand, Black bear sightings — not to mention incidents — are rather common in Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite claims an approximate 300 to 500 black bears. Despite their name, these large, omnivorous mammals often appear brown in color. While they aren’t to be trifled with — visitors encountering a bear should remain at least 50 yards away, and raise their hands and make loud noises to ward them off — attacks are rare, and no one has been killed by a black bear in Yosemite.
Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep are a federally recognized endangered species that live only on steep terrain at elevations exceeding 10,000 feet. In Yosemite, their sole habitat is on cliffs on the far northeastern edge of the park, where they forage for sparse grasses on rocky terrain. Bighorns are an incredibly rare site, with only a handful of herds known to live in the Sierras.
Two key factors brought on the drastic decline in populations of these sheep, starting in the mid-1800s. Early settlers of the Sierra Nevada killed many of them for food, but even more devastating to the herds were diseases borne by the domesticated sheep that they brought. Recovery of the species is an interdepartmental concern of state and federal agencies. To date, the bighorns have made a slow but steady comeback, with a statewide population of about 400, and a herd in Yosemite of 40 sheep.
Sierra Nevada Red Fox
One of two species of fox native to Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada red fox is protected by the state of California. This shy little fox is so rarely sighted that Yosemite’s wildlife biologists set up baited motion-detecting cameras just to take photos of it. Preferring to inhabit subalpine elevations of more than 6,000 feet, the Sierra Nevada red fox’s range naturally places it far from chance human encounters, although it was once frequently trapped for its pelt — a practice that the state banned in 1974.
Great Gray Owl
While the species is not unknown outside California, research suggests that Yosemite and the High Sierra is home to a genetically distinct population of great gray owls. What role does genetic makeup play in the behavior of an owl? Well, it just so happens that the Yosemite variety displays differences in migration patterns, nest-site selection and prey preference. About 65 percent of the protected subspecies resides in Yosemite National Park.