Wyoming is a state known for its vast expanses of natural beauty, including its abundance of wildlife. As such, it is home to a wide variety of species, including elk, moose, pronghorns, grizzly bears, and bison, just to name a few. Due to its low population density these animals are still found in large numbers here. The state can be divided into three major geographic regions: the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the intermountain basins. These diverse ecosystems provide a home for over 100 species of mammals and over 400 species of birds. While the presence of these wild animals is a source of fascination and awe for many, it also poses challenges. In particular, the growing populations of grizzly bears and wolves are met with significant criticism, particularly from ranchers and sheep herders who advocate for the removal of the bears' protected status. While hiking or doing other outdoor activities in certain areas, one must be always careful. Fatal accidents with wildlife are extremely rare, but they do occur in Wyoming from time to time.
Wyoming is home to a diverse array of bird species, which can be found in a variety of habitats, including wetlands, grasslands, and mountainous regions, making birdwatching a popular hobby among locals. From birds of prey and owls to songbirds, waterfowl and even hummingbirds, Wyoming has plenty to offer. Of particular interest here are, of course, the various species of birds that live on the prairie, such as the western meadowlark and the greater sage-grouse. These fowl are especially known for their spectacular mating ritual, which they perform annually at the same location, called a "lek". Unfortunately, the population of sage grouse has been declining due to habitat loss caused by agriculture, residential building, and energy development. As a result, I didn't have the opportunity to take a decent picture of the bird myself and could only observe it from a distance during courtship.
During my fieldwork, I had the great fortune to participate in a releasing of black-footed ferrets. This species was thought to be extinct in the 1970s, but was rediscovered in 1981 on a nearby ranch. A controversial breeding program was initiated to save the species. The program involved capturing all remaining animals, as it was feared that the species would not be able to recover on its own and would indeed become extinct. The program was successful and in 2016 the first animals were finally reintroduced to the region. The animals feed almost exclusively on prairie dogs, which makes them very vulnerable. Prairie dogs are not only heavily controlled and hunted by ranchers, they also carry the plague, which they can transmit to their predator and always results in death.
Wyoming is home to a wide variety of mammal species, including large mammals such as elk, moose, pronghorn, grizzly bears, and bison. While bison live exclusively in the national parks and some other protected areas, grizzly bears can be found outside the two major national parks too - although still exclusively in the surrounding regions. In addition to these larger mammals, Wyoming is also home to many small animals, such as marmots, weasels, squirrels and pikas.
Despite the amount of wildlife in Wyoming, it can be very challenging to take appealing pictures due to the difficult light situation. Most of the time the sun shines from a cloudless sky, casting harsh shadows as soon as it peeks over the mountain tops. In addition, heatwaves form over the prairie early in the morning, often making sharp images impossible.