High Sierra chipmunks have vanished

Oct. 4, 2010 at 6:07 PM
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SACRAMENTO, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- A species of chipmunk that roamed California's Sierra Nevada Mountains for centuries has apparently vanished, wildlife experts say.

The disappearance of the Inyo chipmunk, with its button-brown eyes, striped cheeks and a bushy orange-black tail, could be a symptom of a changing mountain range, The Sacramento Bee reported Monday.

"We have not been able to find it anywhere," said James Patton, a retired University of California, Berkeley, professor of zoology who has spent the last two years searching areas of the high Sierra for the elusive species.

It's not known why the species vanished, but the leading suspect is climate change that has brought warming temperatures, earlier snow melt and changing forest conditions to the region over the past century.

"Something is going on," said Patton, adding that the abundance and distribution of other chipmunks in the Sierra have changed, sometimes dramatically, as the range has warmed.

It's still possible Inyo chipmunks could turn up somewhere, but Patton is not optimistic.

"As near as we can tell, it is gone from the Sierra," he said.

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