Animals in the Badlands of South Dakota

Animals in the Badlands of South Dakota
Covering over 244,000 acres of open grasslands, eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires, the Badlands of South Dakota were designated a national park in 1978. Animals of the Badlands of South Dakota must be able to survive in the arid, often harsh terrain, with little cover for camouflage or concealment from other prey. The Badlands is home to a varied assortment of mammals, reptiles and birds, including some of the most famed animals of American history.

Mule Deer

Mule Deer Badlands South Dakota

The hardy mule deer is commonly seen across the grassy expanses of the Badlands. Mule deer are easily recognized by their large, mule-like ears and black-tipped tails, and are considerably larger in size than their close relative, the whitetail deer. The expansive grasslands of the Badlands provide sufficient food for the herds of mule deer that roam the area.




Well adapted to life on the open prairie, pronghorn are often seen in herds in the grasslands of the Badlands. While often mistaken as a type of antelope, pronghorn are actually the lone survivor of a separate animal family. Pronghorn have a distinctive light brown and white pattern to their hides, forked horns, and are able to run at speeds over 50 mph for long distances.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

The Audobon bighorn sheep were a mainstay in the Badlands ecosystem until their extinction, largely from over-hunting, in 1926. Their close relatives, the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, were introduced to the area in the 1960s and their population has steadily grown to near 200 in recent years. Bighorn sheep are at home in the terrain of the buttes of the Badlands because of their excellent ability to climb and scale rocky heights.



The proud symbol of the American West, the bison once roamed the Badlands in huge herds. However, by the 1880s, westward expansion and over-hunting made the bison extinct in the area until their reintroduction in the 1960s. The bison herd of the Badlands is closely managed to avoid common disease, and currently numbers near 450.



Coyotes are known for their adaptability and ability to survive in harsh environments and in the face of human encroachment. While many of the other species native to the Badlands were forced from the area, or at least experienced a great reduction in numbers, coyotes have continued to thrive. Their hardiness helps them to survive at times with little food or water, and their scavenging tendencies help to promote the coyotes' strong presence in the area.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dog

While many of the other animals in the Badlands of South Dakota can be somewhat elusive, tourists to the area should have no trouble spotting some of the area's many prairie dogs. The native blacktail prairie dogs live in extensive burrows in the soil. These burrows are typically grouped in larger prairie dog colonies, and since the animals thrive on the grasses of their native habitat, they rarely have to roam far from their burrow opening to gather food.

Black-Footed Ferret

Black-footed ferret

The most endangered land mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret once lived throughout the Badlands of South Dakota. After extinction in the area and many of their other native habitats, black-footed ferret numbers were reduced to just 18 by the 1980s. Extensive breeding and reintroduction efforts were launched, and the Badlands was chosen as a focal point for reintroduction attempts. Today, over 50 black-footed ferrets are at home in the Badlands of South Dakota, giving hope to the future of the animal across the continent.


Prairie Rattlesnake

The arid climate of the Badlands makes it an ideal home for many types of snakes, though only one Badlands denizen, the prairie rattlesnake, is poisonous. Two to three feet in length and grayish-green in color, the prairie rattlesnake is not present in great numbers, but its bite can be fatal if not treated immediately. Other snakes in the Badlands include the bull snake, blue racer, red-barred garter snake and the hog-nosed snake.


Burrowing Owl

Many species of birds, particularly large predatory birds, are native to the Badlands of South Dakota. Golden and bald eagles, peregrine falcons, marsh and sparrow hawks, and the burrowing owl can all be spotted here, along with other birds like the American goldfinch and an assortment of sparrows.


Article Written By Christie Leman

Christie Leman is a public educator who has been writing informative articles on a variety of topics for five years. Her articles have appeared on several websites, including eHow, Associated Content and She has a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and history from Texas A&M University and is a certified Texas teacher.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.