Drought Moving Predators Closer to People
For wildlife, a drought means less food and water. Both factors mean that food sources of all kinds decline -- from vegetation to bugs to birds to small mammals -- and that puts predators on the move.
Within the past few weeks, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officers have responded to a higher-than-normal level of calls about bears entering homes, garages, sheds, tents, chicken coops and other areas, including a teenage camper who was injured by a bear while camping near Leadville (the bear was subsequently killed by the CPW).
"During the summer, bears depend on green, palatable vegetation and bugs and other critters they find under rocks and logs as their primary food sources," said Cory Chick, an area wildlife manager. "But those natural food sources are harder to find in dry conditions."
Natural food sources are still out there, but some bears have found easier pickings around homes.
"During dry years like this, the bears have to look harder for food, and in doing so often end up finding what people leave out: garbage, bird feeders, barbecue grills and other human food," Chick said. "We are always going to have nuisance bears, but when bears are rewarded for foraging around houses and outbuildings, it increases the chances a nuisance bear becomes a dangerous bear."
The CPW added that feeding a bear is the absolute worst thing a person can do.
If weather conditions improve by mid to late August, the fall food supply of fruit and acorns should help things.
New Mexico residents also are seeing more bears because of the drought and also because of wildfires.
"We've had bears breaking into houses," New Mexico Game and Fish officer Matt Pengelly told The Taos News. "It could get much worse. We just don't know."
State wildlife officials also are concerned about mountain lions moving closer to residential areas, and are recommending that residents keep pets inside at night. A mountain lion was spotted in the back yard of a Las Cruces home in early July, and in that area more bobcats have been seen in yards lately.
In east Texas, residents are having more encounters with another big predator: alligators. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reports that alligator sightings are increasing as the reptiles search for habitat -- because their normal habitat has literally dried up.
Smaller predators also are coming out of the woodwork. That's not an issue for people as prey, but disease is a concern. The animal rabies rate in central Texas is more than double what it was this time last year, and because of that the Texas Department of State Health Services is advising that people stay away from animals like skunks and foxes, which are now being seen during the day.
"In this time of drought, animals are searching for food and water, which increases the likelihood of interacting with each other and then infecting each other through bites," DSHS spokeswoman Carrie Williams told the Texas Tribune.