How great is it to see animals in the wild instead of in a zoo! Look for these animals throughout Grand County.
Moose can be spotted at almost any time of the day, along the road, in parking lots, even walking into town. The male has enormous antlers shaped like clawed scoops; the female has none. Moose have a really mean disposition. Their behavior is very unpredictable. Walk out of your way to avoid a wild animal that stands six feet tall, can weigh half a ton and has sharp hoofs and big antlers. Besides, they don’t see well. Moose have been known to charge at cars. If you are on foot, move away quietly. Moose can be found any time of day near rivers, willow thickets and wetlands, even right in town.
Elk can be seen in the morning or early evening along the edges of clearings in the Kawuneeche Valley meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park. Male elk stand up to five feet tall and can weigh 1,100 lbs. The antlers of the male elk can span up to five feet across. In the fall, bull elk are famous for their bugling that echoes across the valleys.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep like open rocky areas high on the mountainside. Found only in the Rocky Mountains, they are known for their surefootedness. Look for them in Rocky Mountain National Park, outside of Empire on US Hwy 40, and in Gore Canyon, where a new herd was recently released.
Only the black bear lives in Colorado but, contrary to the name, not all black bears are black. They may also be honey-colored or light brown.
Black bears are generally shy and avoid human contact; however, always use caution in brushy areas, near a stream or where the trail rounds a bend. Bears use trails just as people do. In most cases the bear will detect you first and leave the area, but be alert. When angry or alarmed, bears can move like greased lightning and will attack humans. However, black bears rarely attack humans.
Bears will eat almost anything. Do not leave trash out whether at a campsite, in a plastic garbage bag or in a trash receptacle.
Spotting the snowy white coats of mountain goats is a true Rocky Mountain high. Their thick white coat stands out against the high tundra. They live high on the steep mountain slopes. With cloven hooves that have two toes and rough pads on the bottom of each toe to provide the grip of a natural climbing shoe, mountain goats can jump nearly 12 feet in a single bound. Both the male and female goats have horns, making it hard to tell them apart. Mountain goats live on very steep mountain slopes and can be seen near Byers Peak or St. Louis Lake.
Red foxes are so adaptable that they can be found almost anywhere. Its long bushy tail with distinctive white tip provides balance for large jumps and complex movement. Its strong legs allow it to reach speeds of approximately 45 mph, a great benefit to catching prey or evading predators.
One look tells you why the deer are called mule deer. Each big protruding ear turns independently to help mule deer hear faraway sounds. When running, they touch all four feet to the ground at once. Deer rarely travel alone. They are also very curious. Often after they have been scared off, they will stop and turn around to see what spooked them.
The yellow-bellied marmot lives in and around tree line and loves to sun on the boulder-strewn slopes. Listen for the alarm whistle from a marmot. They post sentinels to watch for their enemies (mostly fox and eagles).
At night you will hear the call of the coyotes. It often starts with a series of short barks followed by a long mournful howl. This is their means of signaling others, especially while hunting their prey. Two or three coyotes can often sound like twenty. In Native American culture their names means mischieve one. Coyotes have thrived among humans. Don't be surprised to see them right in your neighborhood.
The mountain lion is shy and secretive and rarely seen, but be careful – these wild cats may attack humans. When hiking on trails, keep your children in sight and close by. This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Although rare to see, this big cat roams all of Grand County. Mountain lions generally exist wherever deer are found. They are solitary and elusive, and their nature is to avoid humans.
It’s the mischievous black mask that people remember most about the raccoon. The furry scavenger will eat almost anything – berries, fish, rodents, insects, pet food and, of course, garbage. The front paws of the raccoon are very distinctive with toes that are long and well separated, almost hand-like. Interestingly, the raccoon’s English name comes from the Algonquian word arukan, meaning “he who scratches with his hand.”
Keep Wild, Wild
Be cautious in our wild animal kingdom. When you see an animal from a distance, that’s close enough. Don’t get closer. Most animals see, hear, and smell us long before we see them.
Never intentionally feed wild animals to attract them to your yard. Feeding animals is unlawful ($50 fine). Animals fed by people become beggars and can die in the winter.
Drive carefully. Many animals will often be by the roadside or on the road.
Never – no, never - approach wildlife. They are just that – wild and when frightened, they will attack humans. Watch wildlife from a distance. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens to get a close view. If animals notice you, or if they seem nervous, you are too close. Move away calmly. Be quiet and still to avoid startling them.
Never feed wild animals. Animals fed by people become beggars. Beggar animals often stay near roads, where cars hit them; or they become dependent on humans and lose their ability to hunt and die in the winter.
Drive carefully through wildlife areas. Elk, deer, and bighorn sheep seldom travel alone. If one animal crosses the road, others are sure to follow.
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