5 Animals Who Are Thriving in Colorado

Intriguing wildlife species, native and otherwise, roam Colorado’s high mesas and dense alpine forests, while others traverse crystalline streams. These majestic animals are only one part of what makes the great state of Colorado a natural wonder for residents and visitors alike. Fortunately, fees from hunting and fishing licenses further Colorado’s ongoing efforts to improve conditions for the state’s wildlife population, and those fees add up. Every year, hunting and fishing contributes an estimated $2.8 billion to the local economy.

Here are five of Colorado’s valued species that benefit from hunting and fishing.


One of nature’s most dramatic passion plays unfolds when elk mate in the fall. The bulls command respect with exceptionally large antlers and bellowing bugle sounds. The mating call begins with a deep, resonant sound that gives way to a squeal before concluding with a series of grunts.

Estes Park’s Elk Fest coincides with the bugling season. Guided viewing tours, bugling competitions and Native American storytelling fill an active schedule. Vendors display themed artwork, elk antler creations, elk hide pillows and more.

A century ago, after unregulated hunting decimated the population, 50 imported elk were released near Idaho Springs and in the Greenhorn Mountains. Today, more than a quarter million Colorado elk outnumber all other elk populations worldwide. License fees support efforts to protect vital migration corridors and improve habitat.

Bighorn Sheep 

Agile bighorn sheep traverse high mountain meadows, usually above 8,000 feet. Spongy pads on their hooves make them sure-footed even on narrow, jagged ridges. In early November, the Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Festival offers educational programs, and the wildlife-related art exhibited by local artisans and shop owners.

A century ago, unregulated hunting and diseases borne by European livestock decimated their numbers. Fortunately, decades of aggressive relocation grew the herds of the Colorado state animal until the statewide population now numbers 7,000.


The grayish lynx is a relative of the more plentiful reddish bobcats. The lynx’s long ear tuft further distinguishes it from its cousin. Huge hind feet allow lynx to bound through heavy snow along avalanche chutes in pursuit of its favored prey, the snowshoe hare. The lynx inhabits dense subalpine forests and willow-choked areas along mountain streams.

Unfortunately, by the 1970s, the 3-foot-long cat was “missing in action” in Colorado. In 1999, 218 lynx captured in Alaska and Canada were released in the San Juan Mountains. Satellite tracking of radio-collared cats confirmed that breeding populations now roam the high country.

Black-footed Ferret 

It seemed like the black-footed ferret came back from the dead. A century ago, the decline of prairie dogs, the ferret’s major food source, and an outbreak of sylvatic plague greatly reduced their numbers. After being declared extinct in 1979, 18 of them were discovered on a Wyoming ranch two years later. Today, thanks to the captive breeding efforts of state and federal agencies, hundreds of black-footed ferrets now live in the wild in eight states.

Today, hunting and fishing license fees help fund reintroduction efforts in the state. Hundreds of ferrets have been released at sites in Pueblo, Larimer, Adams, Prowers and Baca counties. Since the program began in 2013, breeding in the wild has been documented at two of the six reintroduction sites.


The 6-foot tall Shiras moose can weigh almost half a ton. Beginning in the 1970s, biologists relocated more than 200 of these giants from nearby states to create a self-sustaining population in Colorado. The effort was an unqualified success as the state’s moose population now exceeds 2,400. About a quarter of them reside in the State Forest State Park area. Moose viewing is popular along a 7-mile route through the park.

In late July, celebrate the reemergence of the moose at Grand Junction’s Grand Mesa Moose Day. Enjoy a scenic drive on Grand Mesa, and learn more about the moose at the U.S. Forest Service Center.

Interested in learning more about these and other species? Attend some of the other annual festivals and special events that celebrate Colorado wildlife.