The Wildlife of Zion National Park

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About Zion National Park

Zion Canyon in Zion National Park, Utah

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

Zion National Park was established as a national park on November 19, 1919. The park is located in southwestern United States just outside the town of Sprindale, Utah. Zion protects 229 square miles of diverse terrain and unique wilderness. The park is best known for Zion Canyon—a deep, red rock canyon. Zion Canyon was carved over a time period of about 250 millions of years by the Virgin River and its tributaries.

Zion National Park is a dramatic vertical landscape, with an elevation range of about 3,800 feet to 8,800 feet. Steep canyon walls rise thousands of feet above the canyon floor, concentrating a large number of micro habitats and species within a small but highly varied space. The wildlife diversity within Zion National Park is the result of its location, which straddles numerous biogeographical zones including the Colorado Plateau, the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and Basin and Range.

There are about 80 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 8 species of fishes, and 44 species of reptiles and amphibians that inhabit Zion National Park. The park provides critical habitat for the rare species such as the California condor, the Mexican spotted owl, the Mojave Desert tortoise, and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

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Mountain Lion

A mountain lion jumping

Gary Samples / Getty Images

The mountain lion (Puma concolor) is among the most charismatic of Zion National Park's wildlife. This elusive cat is rarely seen by visitors to the park and the population is thought to be quite low (possibly as few as just six individuals). The few sightings that do happen are usually in the Kolob Canyons area of Zion, which lies some 40 miles north of the busier Zion Canyon area of the park.

Mountain lions are apex (or alpha) predators, which means that they occupy the top position in their food chain, a position that means they are not prey to any other predators. In Zion, mountain lions hunt large mammals such as mule deer and bighorn sheep, but also sometimes catch smaller prey such as rodents.

Mountain lions are solitary hunters that establish large territories that can be as much as 300 square miles. Male territories often overlap with the territories of one or several females, but territories of males do not overlap with one another. Mountain lions are nocturnal and use their keen night vision to locate their prey during the hours from dusk to dawn.

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California Condor

California Condor

Steve Johnson / Getty Images

California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) are the largest and most rare of all America's birds. The species was once common throughout the American West but their numbers declined as humans expanded westward.

By 1987, the threats of poaching, power line collisions, DDT poisoning, lead poisoning, and habitat loss had taken a huge toll on the species. Only 22 wild California condors survived. That year, conservationists captured these remaining 22 birds to start an intense captive breeding program. They hoped to later re-establishing the wild population. Starting in 1992, that goal was realized with the reintroduction of these magnificent birds to habitats in California. A few years later, the birds were also released in northern Arizona, Baja California, and Utah.

Today, California condors inhabit Zion National Park, where they can be seen soaring on thermals that rise out of the park's deep canyons. The California condors that inhabit Zion are part of a larger population whose range extends over southern Utah and northern Arizona and includes some 70 birds.

The world population of California condors is currently about 400 individuals and more than half of those are wild individuals. The species is slowly recovering but remains precarious. Zion National Park provides valuable habitat for this magnificent species.

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Mexican Spotted Owl

Mexican spotted owl on a rock

Jared Hobbs / Getty Images

The Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) is one of three subspecies of spotted owls, the other two species are the California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentals) and the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentals caurina). The Mexican spotted owl is classified as an endangered species in both the United States and Mexico. The population has declined dramatically in recent years as the result of habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation.

Mexican spotted owls inhabit a variety of mixed conifer, pine, and oak forests throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico. They also inhabit rock canyons such as those found in Zion National Park and southern Utah.

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Mule Deer

Mule Deer in the wild

Mike Kemp / Getty Images

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are among the most commonly sighted mammals in Zion National Park. Mule deer are not restricted to Zion, they occupy a range that includes much of western North America. Mule deer live in a variety of habitats including desert, dunes, forests, mountains, and grasslands. In Zion National Park, mule deer often come out to forage at dawn and dusk in cool, shady areas throughout Zion Canyon. During the heat of the day, they seek refuge from the intense sun and rest.

Male mule deer have antlers. Each spring, the antlers start to grow in the spring and continue growing throughout the summer. By the time the the rut comes in the fall, the antlers of males are full grown. Males use their antlers to jostle and battle with one another during the rut to establish authority and win mates. When the rut ends and winter comes, males shed their antlers until they grow once again in the spring.

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Collared Lizard

Collared Lizard on a rock

Rhonda Gutenberg / Getty Images

There are about 16 species of lizards in Zion National Park. Among these is the collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) which lives in the lower canyon regions of Zion, especially along the Watchman Trail. Collard lizards have two dark colored collars that encircle their neck. Adult male collard lizards, like the one pictured here, are bright green with brown, blue, tan, and olive green scales. Females are less colorful. Collard lizards prefer habitats that have sagebrush, pinyon pines, junipers, and grasses as well as rocky open habitats. The species is found throughout a wide range that includes Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, and New Mexico.

Collared lizards feed on a variety of insects such as crickets and grasshoppers, as well as small reptiles. They are prey for birds, coyotes, and carnivores.They are relatively large lizards that can grow to as much as 10 inches long.

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Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise

Jeff Foott / Getty Images

The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is a rarely seen species of tortoise that inhabits Zion and is also found throughout the Mojave Desert and the Sonoran Desert. Desert tortoises can live as long as 80 to 100 years, although the mortality of young tortoises is quite high so few individuals live as long as that. Desert tortoises grow slowly. When full grown, they might measure as much as 14 inches long.

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Klappenbach, Laura. "The Wildlife of Zion National Park." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Klappenbach, Laura. (2021, July 31). The Wildlife of Zion National Park. Retrieved from Klappenbach, Laura. "The Wildlife of Zion National Park." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).