Meet The Neighbors
Updated: Jun 1, 2019
Written by Ginny McCarley | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Oxford's deer population an ongoing nature show for residents in the heart of town.
Most mornings, Louisa McConnell enjoys her first cup of coffee on her back porch — along with some fast company. McConnell’s home on Sivley Street is in the heart of Oxford, just blocks from the Square, and for as long as she’s lived there, so have the deer.
“For whatever reason, it’s a natural pathway for the deer,” McConnell said. “My neighbors across the street call me Snow White.”
Over the past two decades, McConnell has enjoyed observing the antics of the deer. Little spotted fawns frolic across her back yard and 12-point bucks bed down behind the bamboo growing there. One afternoon last summer, McConnell pulled into her driveway and spied a doe in her front yard, nursing two fawns.
Watching the deer through the seasons has become special to the whole family.
“It’s just really peaceful to sit there and watch them,” McConnell said. “And we find tons of knocked-off antlers in our backyard.”
The deer do have a downside for McConnell, who works at OIL Shed in Oxford and has an impressive green thumb.
“They have eaten all my hydrangeas and licked my hostas and aucuba clean to the ground,” McConnell said. “My hydrangea was more than 20 years old; they finally killed it this year.”
For McConnell, losing a few plants is a small price to pay for the joy of having a front row seat to the ongoing show of bucks, does and sweet little fawns. But some Oxonians feel differently about the growing deer population.
In 2010, the mayor and board of aldermen adopted a deer management plan that seeks to ensure a “safe and effective system to manage the growth and control of the whitetail deer population that resides within the boundaries of the City of Oxford,” according the the city’s website.
Jimmy Algood, director of emergency management and homeland security in Oxford and the city’s deer management coordinator, said one of the most common complaints from neighborhood residents is that the deer are eating their shrubs.
“We want to have deer here in Oxford, we just don’t want to have deer to the extent that they are destructive,” Algood said.
To control the deer population in the urban environment where they don’t face any natural predators, the city now conducts controlled bow hunts to thin the herd. The city only allows 36 hunters a year, all of whom must pass written and shooting tests.
In an effort to keep Oxford’s deer population healthy, Algood also cautions residents against feeding the deer, which was banned in a 2010 ordinance. Feeding deer and other wild animals unnatural foods can upset their delicate metabolisms and affect their immune systems.
In deer populations, unnatural feeding can cause a spike in chronic wasting disease, a deadly disease that has recently been detected in Mississippi and is spread through deer saliva. When they all feed in the same area, one deer can spread the disease to the entire herd. In addition, improper supplemental feeding can negatively affect animals who do not have the microorganisms in their body to digest the food, by causing dehydration and death.
Deer can suffer other effects from living too close to humans, as McConnell’s front seat to the deer herd in her neighborhood has shown. Recently, McConnell saw a buck with a large gash in his leg, the result of a dog attack. And four years ago, she watched sadly as a deer that had been hit by a car limped through her back yard.
Some might think the deer decided to move into Oxford because life is better here, but in reality, it’s the other way around — human encroachment drives the animals to adapt to urban life. McConnell understands how important it is for the deer to have a place of refuge in the ever-growing city.
“We take their environment away, and they have no choice but to come through ours,” McConnell said. “Animals will adapt, and these poor deer have had to adapt to the growth in Oxford.”
Though it’s sometimes difficult watching nature take its course, most of the time McConnell enjoys her backyard view of the majesty of the herd.
“It is just so peaceful to sit there and watch them play,” McConnell said. “I just get to sit out in the morning and have coffee and watch the babies be frisky and curious.”
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