Unusual wildlife encounters are on the rise across Nevada, including in Las Vegas, where bobcats have been spotted at the Valley Automall and the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel parking lot.
Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Doug Nielsen said dry conditions and a lack of prey are driving some predators to seek food in places they would normally avoid, namely golf courses, parks, backyards and other places frequented by people.
"There's not a whole lot of groceries out there on the desert," Nielsen said.
Dr. Gary Weddle, animal control administrator for the city of Henderson, said his staff has seen a 20-fold increase in bobcat calls in the past year.
"These bobcats are just doing what they do for a living. They're in town hunting," Weddle said.
Bears have never been a problem in the Las Vegas Valley.
But in Goldfield, a high-desert town of about 400 people 185 miles north of Las Vegas on U.S. Highway 95, an underweight black bear drifted into town, close to starvation with sores on her paws, about three weeks ago.
Wildlife officials said the black bear likely left the parched White Mountains, along the state's western border, and set out in search of food.
Goldfield is more than 60 miles away.
"That's quite a ways out of bear habitat," said Carl Lackey, a biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Juanita Colvin, a 31-year resident, said it was the only bear she has ever seen.
Colvin and her husband eventually fed the bear some leftover turkey.
"What else? It was right after Thanksgiving," Colvin said.
The black bear also spent some time at the home of John Singleton, a corporal with the Esmeralda County Sheriff's Office.
Singleton said the desperately hungry animal apparently tried to claw the tiny fruit off a Joshua tree in his yard.
"I thought it was a cub, it was so small," he said.
The bear turned out to be a young adult, though she was considerably underweight for her age.
Lackey said a female black bear usually weighs 100 to 150 pounds in the wild.
This one was about 70 pounds.
Wildlife officials tranquilized the bear and brought it back to Reno, where they fed her for a few days to make sure she had a "full belly," Lackey said.
On Dec. 2, the bear was fitted with a radio tracking collar and released into the Carson Range, where officials hoped she would find plenty of food and water.
The next day, the bear was struck by a car and killed on U.S. Highway 395.
"I doubt she would have made it through the winter anyway. She was pretty thin," Lackey said.
Wayward black bears also have been reported around Caliente and other places far from their traditional ranges.