El PASO, Texas -- The drought has forced wild animals to make their way into cities in search of water and food. In far west Texas where the highway signs flash "extreme wildfire danger," wildlife is struggling to cope with the extremely dry conditions.
"Bone dry," is how wildlife biologist Lois Balin described it. Balin works for the Texas Parks and Wildlife agency.
"All of the grasses are completely dried up and yellow. We haven’t had rain in over 100 days. They’re coming in for the lush vegetation, people’s lawns, getting a free drink, eating your pet’s food," explained Balin.
Deer have been spotted hovering near people's backyard pools. On Tuesday a deer was hit and killed during rush-hour traffic on I-10.
The lack of water and vegetation has set off a chain reaction as deer and other prey move into cities so have the predators. Last week a mountain lion caused a commotion when it roamed through downtown
When the big cat passed a catholic elementary school, teachers and staff ushered the students inside.
Employees at a car wash corralled the big cat when it sat down to rest in the shade near a water hose. After authorities arrived a vet shot the panting cougar with a tranquilizer. After the first dose didn't work. He tried again. When the animal jumped on a wall less than a minute later, officers shot and killed the big cat.
"There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to see more wildlife and when we do we need to be ready for it --not with guns.," said Jose Karam, a certified rehabilitator with the Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife rescue organization. Karam and other experts urge cities to prepare better for the growing number of urban wildlife encounters.
Drought is just one pressure on wildlife. Development is the other. Urban sprawl poses a growing threat.
"We’re encroaching so much into their habitat," explained biologist Balin. "A large predator or mammal needs a lot of habitat to support themselves so we have to have regional planning and develop areas very carefully so we can accommodate wildlife and their habitat."
Balin and other professionals from around the world will gather in Austin starting Sunday to discuss strategies at Urban Wildlife Management Conference.
The drought has exacerbated the issue and as a dry, hot summer looms, cities across the southwest are bracing for for more wildlife. For El Paso, which sits at the foot of the Franklin Mountains, that could mean more mountain lions.
"They have springs up in the mountain but I doubt they're running right now. "said Karam.