In search of ponies: Drought takes toll on animals, too

Sepia toned skies, roaring winds, heat and the one ingredient that could change it all — rain — grievously absent.

Such is summer in New Mexico, one of those places where a rain shower doesn't do much more than make dirt circles on windows right before it evaporates.

But even though hot, dry and yes, wind, are characteristics of the eastern plains, it can always get worse and it's already on the way there.

It really is no surprise to see the entire region colored in deep red on the map, drab, dead brown being the only other color that might possibly be more fitting.

And if any further evidence were needed, the most recent Drought Monitor, released this week, identified conditions in the eastern part of the state as "Extreme" and the worst in the nation, meaning New Mexico really is in the hot seat right now.

Without a doubt the dust storms are miserable, the tumble weeds plentiful and growing anything presents an ongoing battle and a high water bill.

However the impact of the drought on rangeland — 98 percent of which the Drought Monitor classifies as being in "very poor" condition — and consequently, a long list of indigenous critters that call the area home, is comparable to being ravaged by wild fires.

There simply isn't anything to eat, hiding spots are blowing away and it's a long, long walk to find a drink of water.

It's taking a toll, with wildlife experts reporting normally reclusive animals turning up in odd places and crossing paths with people more often.

And they are bedraggled, starving and literally dying of thirst, according to The Wildlife Center in Espanola, which relayed concerns in a recent story by the Associated Press.

When range land is dry as a bone for mile after mile, normally hardy critters push toward populated areas in a desperate search for food and water.

Simply put, fear of humans starts to not matter so much when there are sprinklers, kiddie pools, pet dishes and puddles in the street.

In times of serious drought, wildlife conservationists say there are ways to help wild neighbors and also deter them from raiding the dog's dish on the back porch.

  • Keep bird baths filled.
  • Place water containers around property edges to provide animals a place to drink away from homes. Clean water captured during showers and chores is a way to conserve otherwise wasted water.—– helps support beneficial insect populations and in turn, also helps to feed insect-eaters.
  • Keep trash in secure receptacles to avoid attracting hungry foragers.
  • Clean and store barbecue grills in sheds and garages after use because it smells good to more than just invited guests.
  • Store livestock and pet feed in closed structures.
  • Clean up fallen fruit from trees, favorites for skunks and raccoons.

While humans and wildlife alike are suffering the same harsh conditions, people are certainly at an advantage. But with a little forethought, humans can share those advantages with struggling neighbors while keeping impromptu meetings at a minimum and maybe even get an occasional peek at critters they normally wouldn't — from a safe distance of course.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: or on the web at:

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