ALBUQUERQUE -- From a family of bobcats to songbirds and raptors, the Wildlife Center in northern New Mexico says it is seeing a rise in starving and thirsty animals, the result of prolonged drought that is drying up food and water supplies.
"We are seeing an increase in birds that are coming in way underweight, without any injuries, which is unusual," Katherine Eagleson, executive director of The Wildlife Center in Espanola. "... We are finding no evidence of disease or injuries, they are just starving."
Eagleson says the center is also fielding a lot of calls from people finding unusual animals in their yards.
For instance, the center currently is caring for a mother and four bobcat kittens found in the El Dorado neighborhood of Santa Fe. It also has foxes and lots of bunnies, Eagleson said.
"It's sort of an interesting phenomenon," she said. "People are finding animals in their yards and in their garages and in their barns that they don't usually see in that close to human habitation. I believe it's the place where there are still plants and seeds that brings in rodents, the snakes follow the rodents and one thing leads to another."
New Mexico is now in its third year of drought, with much of the state now classified as in extreme conditions. That has impacted all levels of wildlife, Eagleson said. And the effects will likely be felt for years to come, as animals stop reproducing when they don't have food and water.
"It's probably worse than fires in terms of long-term effects on wildlife," she said.
And it's too soon to know what impact the drought will have this year on larger mammals like bears, deer and elk, said Dan Williams from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
If people want to help wildlife, Eagleson suggests they put shallow pans of water on the edges of their property, to keep unwanted wildlife from coming in closer in search of their sprinklers, ponds and other water and food sources.
And Williams warns that people should never remove a bear cub or young deer or elk if they see it in the wild alone. He said the animals often stash their young while they look for food, and removing the babies is not only illegal, it leaves them little chance for survival.
Last week, for instance, a woman in Tijeras saw a bear cub along the side of the road and took it, thinking she was rescuing it.
"She thought she was doing the right thing," he said. "Unfortunately, now the bear doesn't have a whole lot of chance of survival."
The bear is being raised at a rehab center until it is old enough to be released into the wild, he said,"but its chances in the wild on its own without any training from its mother are not good."