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Photo Gallery

Abert's squirrel

Sciurus aberti

Only in winter do the perky ears of Abert’s squirrels grow tassels, or tufts of hair. Tree squirrels don’t hibernate, so a longer winter coat, topped by tassels, warms this species while it forages in its high, snowy habitat. This individual is from an isolated population on Arizona’s mile-high Kaibab Plateau. Separated for thousands of years, the Kaibab population has evolved an elegant white tail instead of the usual gray.

Alaska Brown Bear

Ursus arctos 

Although brown bears don’t mingle much, these two have gathered at a stream near Canoe Bay, Alaska, lured by the first fish of the salmon run. The millions of salmon that swim upstream each summer are a huge boon for bears, helping them regain body mass after winter hibernation.

Thanks to nutrient-rich salmon, brown bears on the Alaska Peninsula coast and islands are the largest terrestrial carnivores today. Brown bears that live inland (such as the grizzly bears behind you) eat mainly plants—and can be half the size.

American Badger

Taxidea taxus

After a fruitless night of hunting, a badger has discovered a fresh target: the burrow entrance of a Wyoming ground squirrel. Badgers will dig furiously to excavate underground prey and their own dens. They can quickly tunnel themselves out of sight using powerful forelimbs and long claws. When attacked themselves—cougars and eagles will try—badgers fight back with ferocity.

American Bison and Pronghorn

Bison bison and Antilocapra americana

This diorama is set in the mid-1800s, when the prairies teemed with tens of millions of bison. A few decades later fewer than a thousand remained. The species was nearly exterminated for hides and sport, and to subdue Native Americans who relied on bison for food and livelihood. 

This “great slaughter” ignited the first effort to save a mammal from extinction. As bison dwindled, ranchers began to breed them, and some were transferred to sanctuaries. Today, this North American icon is numerous again—but nearly all bison are raised for meat on fenced ranches. Domestication and inbreeding means that truly wild bison are still quite rare.

American Marten

Martes americana

A marten emerges tentatively at the bare rim of Crater Lake in search of ground squirrels. Martens don’t like being exposed in the open. They’d rather stay concealed in big evergreen trees or underbrush so carnivorous birds or wild cats can’t spot them. Clear-cutting and fur trapping have taken a toll on marten populations, but with forest regrowth and trapping laws, these shy, solitary hunters are rebounding.

American Mink

Neovison vison

Where there’s water, there may be mink. These svelte hunters seek fish and frogs underwater and waterfowl and small mammals near shore. Mink’s semi-webbed feet help them swim with skill, and their dense, oily coats repel water well. Their luxuriant pelts have long been desired for fur garments, so mink have been trapped and farmed extensively. Although farms breed mink in many colors, wild mink are always a deep, glossy brown.

Bighorn Sheep

Ovis canadensis

Stalwart symbols of mountain wilderness, a “bachelor band” of bighorn sheep stands before Mount Athabasca in the Canadian Rockies. Male sheep older than two years leave their mothers to follow a leading ram. Horn and body size determine rank, so the leader of this band is certainly the ram on the right.

Equally sized males may duel to secure their rank. Rivals will repeatedly face off, charge and then crash horns until one loses balance and concedes. During the mating season, when rams fight for ewes, battles are even more violent. The collisions will echo across the ravines of the Rockies, and some contenders will even be pushed off the edge.

Black Bear

Ursus americanus

A black bear has startled a venomous cottonmouth snake in this Florida cypress swamp. The snake exposes its fangs in threat—but neither animal is likely to attack. It’s not worth the risk.

As this bear moves on to a safer meal, it will have a lot to choose from. Black bears eat almost anything, so they can survive in many landscapes—northern conifer forests, temperate woodlands and even here, in the warm swamps of the South. Unlike black bears in colder climates, this bear has no need to hibernate, so it is active in December.

Black-footed Ferret

Mustela nigripes

Black-footed ferrets are North America’s rarest mammals. Because they prey almost entirely on prairie dogs and live in their burrows, prairie dog declines nearly caused the ferret’s extinction. All black-footed ferrets today, including the reintroduced population here at Wind Cave, descended from seven wild ferrets bred in captivity. Although captive breeding has been a success, disease outbreaks in the wild hamper their recovery.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit and Antelope Jackrabbit

Lepus californicus and Lepus alleni

The black-tailed jackrabbit (left) and antelope jackrabbit (right) are often seen idling or running together in Arizona and Mexico, where their ranges overlap. But make no mistake—these are two different species. Even small traits count. Both hares have long ears and legs, but antelope jackrabbits’ ears are even more enormous. Black-tailed jackrabbits are distinguished by black tails and ear-tips. In a race, the antelope jackrabbit would win, reaching speeds of 44 miles (72 kilometers) per hour.

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