Zion National Park has something for just about everyone. And I’m not just talking about humans.
From its arid desert to its lushly vegetated forests, Zion boasts an eclectic mix of animals. There are four different life zones within the park (coniferous forest, woodland, riparian and desert), and each zone contains its own microclimates and habitats for a broad range of animals.
To give you an understanding of what types of animals live in the park, let’s take a look at some of Zion’s full-time residents.
Big Horn Sheep
As you look at the side of a dry, rocky cliff, you might notice something moving. Don’t change your contact lenses – you’re looking at a small herd of big horn sheep. Big horn sheep have the ability to navigate seemingly impossible terrain, and they can go for days without water. They are most common on the rocky slopes of the east side of the park (by Zion Ponderosa).
Mexican spotted owls
All animals in Zion are protected by its National Park status, but the Mexican spotted owl is of special note. Zion offers the perfect habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, a species classified as threatened on the federal level. These nocturnal birds are “perch and pounce” predators, typically locating their prey from an elevated perch by sight or sound, then pouncing on the prey and capturing it with their talons.
Wild turkeys are quite common in the park. There are many of them in Zion Canyon and you don’t have to go too far from the road to spot one of them roaming a grassland area.
During the winter, bald eagles come to Zion to rest. And I don’t blame them. I think I’d be pretty tired too after flying all the way from Alaska or Canada to Southern Utah, and Zion would be the perfect place to take a break.
If you’re lucky, you may come across a desert tortoise. These rare reptiles are federally protected,and their population is being monitored by park rangers. Although they can live up to 100 years of age, very few of them make it that far because young, slow-moving tortoises are easy prey for ravens, gila monsters and coyotes.
Photograph by Makedocreative, licensed under CC-ASA 3.0
Beavers make their homes along the Virgin River, where they chew on cottonwood trees and build dams.To escape the heat, though, they like to do most of their work during the night, so you may see the remnants of their hard work while they are getting their rest.
Photograph by H. Zell, licensed under CC-ASA 3.0
There are 16 species of lizards in Zion. The only one that can potentially harm humans is the gila monster, the only venomous lizard in North America. Although they pack a painful (but not fatal) bite, their sluggish nature keeps them from being too much of a concern.
These are just a few of the animals that flourish in Zion National Park. More than 78 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 8 species of fish coexist within the park. Remember that if you’re lucky enough to see one of these creatures in real life to keep your distance and don’t feed or touch them.