'It's really pitiful': Predators and prey together, struggling to survive floodwaters

Brian Broom
Mississippi Clarion Ledger
  • Seven popular state wildlife management areas have been underwater since January.
  • Work to improve habitat on hold.
  • "Opossums, coons and armadillos are hit by cars every day. It's pretty grim."
  • Turkeys have "mowed up" levees.

David Thornton of Eagle Lake is 77 years old and has hunted and fished in the south Delta as long as he can remember. What he can't remember is another flood like the one he's witnessing now.

"I've never seen the (Mississippi) River stay up all year," Thornton said. "They got 500,000 acres of crop land under water. That's unreal."

The effect of months of flooding on deer and other wildlife is something he finds particularly hard to watch.

"There are deer by the thousands between here and the levee every evening," Thornton said. "The poor deer are out there with nothing to eat. In the trees, they've eaten all the leaves they can reach."

Deer, feeding at the base of the levee by Steele Bayou Hunting Club in Warren County, move on after being startled by a passing car on the levee. Backwater flooding has pushed them out of their usual feeding area causing them to look for food where and whenever they can.

And the condition of the deer he sees also points to the negative impact on their health.

"They're poor for the most part," Thornton said. "You can see them wading out there in the water looking for something to eat.

"As high as they can reach, they've eaten everything. It's pitiful. It's really pitiful."

'Predators and prey on same island'

The negative impact on other species is also apparent.

"Coons are walking around all day," Thornton said. "Some of them don't look healthy.

"Opossums, coons and armadillos are hit by cars every day. It's pretty grim."

Thornton said he's also concerned about the turkey population.

"In places, they've mowed the levee," Thornton said. "No telling how many nests they broke up. 

"There's no other place to nest, if they nest at all. It ain't good."

Roger Tankesly, a Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks wildlife management area biologist for the Delta region, said he's seeing many of the same things.

"I'm observing anywhere there's a high ridge, dry grounds, animals are congregated," Tankesly said. "I'm seeing browse lines.

"I'm seeing deer, pigs, turkeys, and predators congregated together — predators and prey all on the same island."

Plantings, habitat improvements on hold

The south Delta is home to seven of the more popular state wildlife management areas. Tankesly said although they're popular, most hunters only see them during hunting season. In the off season a lot of work goes on to improve the habitat and high water has made it impossible so far this year.

"All of our properties in the south (Delta), those seven management areas are completely under water," Tankesly said. "They been under water since January. They're anywhere from 2 feet deep to 15 feet under water."

So, typical wildlife plantings, habitat improvements and other work just aren't happening now.

"We got a mountain of work to do when this weather changes," Tankesly said.

With both localized rainfall and the rising Mississippi River impacting the area, it's unclear when the floodwater will recede, but Tankesly said over time, wildlife populations will recover.

"These animals are very resilient and will bounce back," Tankesly said. "If it does take a toll on them this year, they will bounce back."

Contact Brian Broom at 601-961-7225 or bbroom@gannett.com. Follow Clarion Ledger Outdoors on Facebook and @BrianBroom on Twitter.

More outdoors:'We've never seen this before': What will south Delta flooding do to fawns?

More outdoors:New deer hunting regulations are in place to combat CWD. Here's what you need to know