The animals of northern New Mexico know drought by a different name: hunger. The Wildlife Center in Española has nearly three times as many bears and many more deer and eagles than usual this year because the lack of precipitation, combined with habitat displacement caused by wildfires, has affected the plants and animals they eat.
TWC is currently caring for 11 bear cubs and yearlings at an off-site location. Depending on their age, the bears are scarfing down a special milk formula, a “bear mush” made of fruit, or dog food.
“It’s costing us a mint to feed these bears,” TWC Director Katherine Eagleson says. “We’re going through 70 pounds of dog food a day.”
Caring for multiple bears is actually easier than dealing with just one because the risk of their becoming habituated to human contact is lower, and they’re getting the benefit of “a lot of bear-to-bear contact,” Eagleson says.
Several of the six bald and golden eagles brought into TWC were emaciated due to lack of food, Eagleson says, while one of the five mule deer fawns they’re caring for was slightly burned in the Las Conchas fire.
“The animals are hungry, so they’re going to be wandering into places they wouldn’t normally be in order to find food,” Eagleson says. “That’s usually a very bad outcome for wildlife.”