Mila Shelehoff watched a bear that had foraged for a week in her Hyde Park Estates neighborhood act weak and then die two days later in a wooded area near her home.
Seeing the bear suffer a slow death and having to explain it to her young son was upsetting, said Shelehoff, who suspects the animal might have been poisoned.
“It was heartbreaking to watch,” she said.
The New Mexico Game and Fish Department is investigating whether the bear was poisoned.
Agency spokesman James Pitman said he couldn’t discuss details about the case but noted a necropsy — an autopsy for an animal — is typically performed in these cases.
If someone deliberately poisoned the bear, it would fall under the state’s animal cruelty laws, Pitman said.
An animal welfare advocate said a person who intentionally killed an animal with poison could be charged under the law’s extreme cruelty provision, making it a fourth-degree felony. In New Mexico, that level of crime is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
“If someone poisoned an animal, whether it be wildlife or a domestic animal or companion animal, it’s still considered animal cruelty under the state statute,” said Alan Edmonds, cruelty case manager for Animal Protection of New Mexico.
Edmonds added, however, that something else might have killed the bear.
Hyde Park Estates, northeast of Santa Fe off Hyde Park Road, borders forest land — the kind of neighborhood commonly referred to as an urban wildland interface, where bears and other predators are more likely to cross boundaries.
Bear sightings are more common this time of year, wildlife managers say, as the animals forage for food to prepare for hibernation.
This is the second time in a month a bear died after wandering into a neighborhood.
In September, a mother bear was fatally struck by a motorist near the Santa Fe National Cemetery. One of the two cubs that accompanied her was captured the next day at the cemetery and taken to a wildlife shelter. The other cub was never found.
The Hyde Park bear had come around almost nightly for about a week, and then on Monday became ill before ambling into a wooded tract, Shelehoff said.
She called Game and Fish to report the ailing bear.
She also was concerned that if someone had set out poisoned food, her dogs that roam freely in the area might eat it.
Pitman said officers went out to the neighborhood but couldn’t find the bear. They told Shelehoff to call again and “keep them in the loop” if she spotted the bear, but she didn’t phone again until Wednesday, after it had died.
Shelehoff said she called multiple agencies and wished one of them had been able to aid the bear, which was clearly suffering.
“It makes me very sad,” she said.