The first groups of travelers on the Santa Fe Trail reported that forests were full of game, the plains and canyons were full of antelope and buffalo, and streams were teeming with fish. There were more beavers than people, and wolves were so numerous that burials had to be covered with rocks. Lieutenant William H. Emory, during a U.S. boundary survey in 1848, encountered grizzly bears, elk, turkeys, ducks, and hundreds of pronghorn in the canyons south of Raton Pass. Professor L.L. Dyche from the University of Kansas found plentiful game in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 1895 while he was collecting specimens for the Kansas University Museum. But he realized that some species were in danger of extinction as there was little thought about conservation, and everyone hunted at will. Hide hunters roamed the mountains. It is not surprising that some species quickly disappeared. Among these were buffalo, native elk (hunted to extinction around 1900), grizzly bear, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Black bear, deer, antelope, mountain lion, and coyote survived. Coyotes are still common throughout the state.
There has been success with animal introduction and reintroduction in the 20th century. Rocky Mountain Elk reintroduction into the southern part of the state began in 1911 and in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains around 1915. Merriam elk once covered the whole area from Arizona to southwestern Oklahoma, and today, reintroduced elk herds have returned to the Merriam elk former habitat. Rocky Mountain big horn sheep now live along the Rio Grande among boulders covered with the petroglyphs of bighorn sheep that were carved by prehistoric hunters. Beavers, almost extinct in New Mexico by 1830, have made a comeback. Through comprehensive wildlife conservation strategies wild turkeys, quail, and pheasants have been replaced into areas where they lived before settlement began. Exotic game such as Persian Ibex and African oryx gazelle thrive in protected areas.
The variety of New Mexico wildlife is vast. Over 300 bird species live here such as the road runner, the State Bird, and 17 species of hummingbirds. For an amazing bird watching between October and March, the Bosque del Apache is the place to go. Thousands of migrating birds winter along this special area of the Rio Grande.
New Mexico also boasts an amazing variety of unusual animals such as the hairy Tarantula spider, Sacramento Mountain salamanders that live in alpine tundra, and the spiked horny toad. Wildlife is everywhere from marmots and pica in the highest mountains, to pack rats and javalinas in the hottest desert.