As of May 15, swathes of land in the American Southwest are still suffering from a blistering drought. According to the US Drought Monitor—a federal website set up in 2000 to document drought conditions—parts of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nevada, Arizona, and California are classified as being in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. The rest of the region is just a step below at the rating of “severe” drought. Last week the Arizona Game and Fish Department (GFD) put out a warning that residents may be seeing unusual wildlife activity as animals venture further into urban areas.
“Animals may go into search mode,” said Larry Phoenix, field supervisor with the Arizona GFD. “If they can’t find food and water in the forests, mountains and areas where they normally live, then they head to places where these essentials can be found.”
Depending on the area, that could mean creatures such as bobcats, deer, coyotes, and even elk or bears taking the risk to find food and cover in human neighborhoods. Phoenix said it is especially important for residents to not feed the animals. Giving wildlife food or water is a sure way to keep the animal coming back when the drought is over. It may be especially tempting to provide aid for young animals such as a fawn or bear cub, but doing so could be harmful to wildlife.
“Usually, the parents are not far away,” says Phoenix. “They may be out gathering food or taking a short break from their young, and if you remove the baby, you’re actually creating a problem. Also, this time of year, baby birds can be found on the ground. This is typically just a normal part of learning to fly. If you do find a baby bird, just place it back in the nest and give the parents a chance to come back and take care of their young.”
The drought may also lead to more encounters between humans and predators. On Tuesday, one Boulder, Colorado woman found a group of mountain lions feasting in her backyard. CBS 4 reported that Mali Gordon called 911 after she saw at least one mountain lion near her suburban home. Wildlife officers later discovered a fresh deer carcass in her backyard and speculated that several cats were eating it before they left. The deer was removed, but officers suspected the mountain lions will be back to claim their kill.
The warm, dry weather is leading to unusual behavior in some animals. Many are coming out of winter dormancy earlier than usual, and that includes dangerous reptiles like rattlesnakes.
“The snakes are acting like it’s July instead of May,” Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesperson Chris Healy told the San Francisco Chronicle. “People are starting to see more of them.”
Officials also advise keeping pets in sight and on leashes when venturing outside.