Floodwaters push reptiles, other critters into the open
Rising waters are flushing animals, including some of America's most feared reptiles, out of their natural habitats and into close contact with people.
Mon, May 09, 2011 at 05:39 PM
SNAKES: In Memphis, residents have been advised to be on the lookout for several venomous snakes, including copperheads and cottonmouth water moccasins, in unexpected places. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
MEMPHIS, Tenn./VICKSBURG, Miss. - As Mississippi River flooding rolls downstream, the rising waters are flushing a number of animals, including some of North America's most feared reptiles, out of their natural habitats and into uncomfortably close contact with people.
In Memphis, residents have been advised to be on the lookout for several venomous snakes, including copperheads and cottonmouth water moccasins, in unexpected places.
Memphis TV stations have aired video of white-tailed deer, pushed out of woodlands and into the city center by the flooding, frantically dodging downtown traffic.
"We're trying to warn people, especially when they go back in their homes, that wildlife may be in their residences," said Heather Reynolds, spokeswoman for the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency.
"We have had the reports of the snakes and the deer. But there have been no incidents."
The combination of rising waters and temperatures also has officials concerned about mosquitoes, linked in recent years to the spread of half a dozen serious diseases in the United States, including the West Nile virus and several varieties of encephalitis.
The insect threat will actually grow as the floodwaters recede and leave behind isolated pools of standing water — the mosquito's preferred breeding ground.
Further south, residents in Vicksburg hoping to see how fast the Mississippi was rising enjoyed some unexpected company when they went sightseeing over the weekend — dozens of alligators sunning themselves atop the dikes built to hold the river back.
"When we got to the levee we saw alligators strolling on top of the levee and all over the place," Vicksburg resident Ashley Nevels told Reuters.
There are some 32,000 to 38,000 alligators in Mississippi and rising flood waters leave them with a shortage of dry land to bask on, said Ricky Flynt, alligator program director for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
"People will start seeing a lot more alligators on the levees now because they are searching for places to sit in the sun," Flynt told Reuters.
"The flood waters are taking up all the dry land."
The Mississippi River, expected to crest late on Monday in Memphis a few inches below the record set in 1937, is expected to crest in Vicksburg on May 19 and Natchez May 21.
Nevels said she and some friends rode out Sunday to check how fast the Mississippi River is rising and found about 50 alligators basking on a levee and strolling around homes nearby.
"I have never seen an alligator that close or that many alligators in one place before," Nevels said. "We were really scared."
(Writing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)
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