Wild animals migrating to new habitats in the Mid-South

FAYETTE COUNTY, Tenn. — Gators and bears and cougars, Oh my!

The Mid-South is seeing an influx of wild animal species moving into the area.

"We're getting a lot of new species that are starting to move in. We're getting a lot of questions now," said Sgt. Ty Inmon, a wildlife officer in Fayette County with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

He has been on the job for more than 20 years and has watched the changes.

One animal you might see at night maybe if you're out camping is the nocturnal nutria. Inmon says they started to become more common 15 years ago.

"If you know what a muskrat is, they're bigger than a muskrat but smaller than a beaver and they're coming up from like, Louisiana, expanding their range. As populations grow, animals move out and try to expand their range and that's what they're doing here."

And who could forget the video of an alligator spotted in March in Fayette County?

"They've been moving their way to Tennessee. The two counties below us in Mississippi, which are Marshall and Benton County, the officers there say they've had them for about 20 years now."

Sightings are happening in Shelby and Fayette County now, Inmon says, as alligators are expanding their range.

"Just moving further north just like armadillos. We didn't have armadillos a few years ago and now we got tons of them, fire ants."

Twenty years from now, Inmon says it will probably be common for boaters to see an alligator.

Black bears are another animal popping up in the Mid-South.

"Mainly it's juvenile males and they're looking for new territory, and it's not uncommon for one to pick up and move and go 3- or 400 miles to go searching for a new population to call home and if they came from."

Inmon says some bears come from Arkansas, Alabama, and East Tennessee.

Amy Spencer, Information and Education Coordinator for West Tennessee, says natural expansion is part of life.

One extremely rare species spotted here has been a mountain lion. However, in that case, experts tell us they're just passing through.

Spencer says there have been 10 mountain lion sightings since 2015.

"The one female that we had some samples from it looks like she's from South Dakota. So she traveled a pretty good distance," Spencer said.

Chances of seeing any of these animals are slim, and Spencer reiterated, they're more afraid of you than you probably are of them.

"It's exciting times," Spencer said. "Go out and enjoy Tennessee's biodiversity. Enjoy these animals that we have. You're lucky that you've got them."