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 are home to a varied assortment of mammals, reptiles and birds, including some of the most famed animals of American history.
Animals in the Badlands of South Dakota

Mule Deer

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.

mule deer


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

The Audubon 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 fluctuated. A 2018 - 2022 management plan has been implemented to "to ensure bighorn sheep populations and their habitats are managed appropriately." 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.

Bighorn Sheep


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 the herd size is around (1,200 as of 2017).



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

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.

prairie dog

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.

Black Footed Ferret


The arid climate of the Badlands makes it an ideal home for many types of snakes, though only one Badlands denizen, the prairie rattlesnake (pictured below), 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.

prairie rattlesnake


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 (pictured below) can all be spotted here, along with other birds like the American goldfinch and an assortment of sparrows.

burrowing owl

Discovering the Animals of Badlands National Park

If you're planning a trip to South Dakota, be sure to set aside some time to spend in Badlands National Park. There, you will have an opportunity to learn more about (and see!) the various wild animals that live in the Badlands of South Dakota. It is a wonderful place to spend all or part of your vacation, especially if you like to camp, hike or fish for trout. Review a travel guide and learn about the various activities in Badlands National Park to plan an amazing adventure that involves viewing Badlands wildlife.  

Article Written By Christie Leman

Christie Leman is a public educator who has been writing informative articles on a variety of topics for several years. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and history from Texas A&M University and is a certified Texas teacher.

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