Beach to Bayou - Dec/Jan 2017
- story by LB Kovac and Ellis Anderson
Beach to Bayou
- Four friends in an SUV are heading out to dinner at a restaurant. It’s just after dark. They pull up to a stop sign at St. Charles Ave., when one notices movement in the wood strip just ahead where the road curves. It’s a fox! they breathe in awe, sitting at the stop sign, the headlights illuminating the creature. Time stretches, as they watch it watch them. Finally, the fox slips into the underbrush and vanishes. The friends drive on, understanding they’ve been gifted by nature on this night.
In fact, Mississippi is home to a substantial number of land mammals alone: 63. For reference, the Magnolia state beats Louisiana, the state closest in land size, by 11 species. Some of our furry neighbors, like the gray squirrel or the eastern cottontail, are a welcome sight no matter where you see them--be it on a nature trail or in your own backyard.
Yet some people may be dubious about critters like foxes, raccoons and opossums, critters important to the delicate Mississippi ecosystem.
Missy Dubuisson, owner of Vancleave-based wildlife rescue organization Wild at Heart, says that these are some of the animals her organization most often sees. She says, “we receive calls from federal, state and local law officers, and the general public” on a regular basis.
Dubuisson has been rehabilitating animals since she was a little girl growing up in Pass Christian. Her love for wild animals, especially America’s only marsupial, has earned her the nickname “the Possum Queen.”
“Many people see a possum and they think they’re going to attack. That’s not going to happen,” Dubuisson promises. She goes on to explain that they’ll only get aggressive if they’re on the defense. “Rightly so.”
As for rabies? The state has been surprisingly rabies-free for the past fifty years. According to the Mississippi Department of Health, “Land animal rabies is rare in Mississippi. Since 1961, only a single case of land animal rabies (a feral cat in 2015) has been identified in our state.” Experts found that the cat had contracted rabies after being bitten, not by another land mammal, but by a bat.
Possums, foxes and raccoons mostly live invisibly alongside humans in urban or semi-suburban areas like Bay-Waveland. All three creatures are dubbed opportunistic eaters. Possums feed on everything from roaches to slugs. Raccoons have a varied diet too, eating crawfish to berries. Much of a fox’s fare consists of invertebrates, like grasshoppers and caterpillars.
Fortunately for their human neighbors, all three eagerly devour nuisance rodents. The fox, in particular, is valued for its superlative ability to catch rats and mice.
Individuals can participate with the 40-year-old program, Garden for Wildlife. This step-by-step program guides homeowners in transforming an ordinary yard into a haven for birds and mammals that we love to watch. NWF even offers a certification once their checklist has been fulfilled. Signage celebrates the efforts and encourages neighbors to do likewise.
Schools, college campuses and place of worship also have wildlife habitat programs, tailored specifically for them. Entire cities, like Bay St. Louis or Waveland, can apply to be official Wildlife Habitat Communities. In addition to practicing more sustainable, nature-friendly lifestyles that benefit both humans and animals, these communities receive positive national recognition.
If Bay St. Louis or Waveland chose to participate, we’d be in good company: Disney’s Epcot Center is a showcase Habitat Community. As is the Denver Zoo. And in Maryland, “Baltimore Gas and Electric has created habitats along its power line rights of way.”
For more information on participating, click on the links above. In the meantime savor another sighting:
- Driving home from a college class in New Orleans one night, a woman crosses the tracks at Ballentine, heading toward the beach. The moon is full, so movement in a vacant field catches her eye. She stops the car. Two foxes freeze, their coats of red glowing, even in the blue moonlight. The human and animals regard each other calmly. There’s no fear on either part, only recognition as fellow beings sharing this extraordinary place and time. When the foxes decide they have better things to do, they move on out of sight. The woman slowly drives on toward her home, understanding that this brief encounter will be treasured for the rest of her days.