Although mammals aren't the largest group of animals at White Sands National Monument—those distinctions go to the insects and birds—they do make up an important part of the ecosystem and food chain.While difficult for the visitor to spot, since many species are nocturnal and some hibernate during the winter months, opportunities for mammal sightings increase if one leaves the dunes and enters the area of desert scrub and grassland vegetation surrounding the fee station and visitor center during evening and early morning hours.Having adapted to the hot summers of the Tularosa Basin, larger mammals such as coyotes, bobcats, badgers, porcupines, cottontails, and jackrabbits usually hide in their dens outside the dunefield to avoid the heat of the day. Once it cools down after sunset, they emerge on nightly excursions in search of food.
Fifty-three species of mammals have been recorded in the White Sands area, including two that are quite unusual. Often, colonies of pallid bats can be found roosting under the eaves of the visitor center or other buildings nearby, while white stains at the top of exterior adobe walls give indication where such colonies have been in the past. Further afield, one will find the African Oryx, a large and strikingly beautiful, non-native species of antelope. The oryx thrive in the desert on native plants without having much to fear from predators. Introduced onto White Sands Missile Range from 1969 to 1977 by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in an attempt to attract big game hunters, this regulated population now numbers between 1,500 to 2,000 individuals.
The kit fox, weighing in at about three to six pounds and similar in size to an adult Chihuahua, is the largest mammal to make its home within the dunes themselves. Other dune inhabitants include several rodent species, such as the pocket mouse, kangaroo rat, and woodrat. For shelter, these smaller mammals burrow into the ground under a dune, in an interdunal area, or into the side of a plant pedestal. Many of these creatures have developed specialized internal systems that allow them to seldomly, if ever, drink water. The kit fox, for example, obtains sufficient amounts of water from the blood of its prey, while the kangaroo rat gets water from the seeds and plants it eats.