What makes Marion County thrive? Love of the outdoors

By BRANDI PERRY,

There are so many amazing and interesting residents in Marion County but maybe none quite like Randall Baker. Not only does he have one of the most unusual occupations in the county, he has also shared his servant’s heart with Marion County for more than three decades.   

There’s no way of knowing how television shows and movies will influence young children but, if it weren’t for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Baker may have never found his true calling. The television documentary ran on NBC from 1963 to 1971 and showcased footage of animals in the wild.

“I knew from the first couple of episodes that I watched that I had to be involved with animals in some way.  I found my passion early and did everything I could to learn about animals and attain the goals I had set for myself,” explained the animal control expert.

Today, Baker gets to use the skills he’s collected through the years to assist state and local agencies, timber companies and hunting camps with the removal of animals that are too close to civilization or that are detrimental to property.

One animal that is often trapped and relocated by Baker is the coyote. The wild canine is considered a nuisance animal in Missisippi, which means they are a threat to the environment, are not tied to eating one specific food, and are detrimental to the naturally occurring wildlife. Even though the coyote population in Mississippi is in the thousands, these animals didn’t make their way to the southeastern part of the country until the mid-1900s.

“The biggest threat the species has on our local environment is the killing of fawns. Mississippi had just started restocking the deer population when the coyotes got here and it definitely cut down on the numbers,” Baker explained.

But the majority of the calls Baker receives are for snakes. Some are pets that have gotten loose but the majority are wild.

Even though most of his calls are standard, there are a few times things have gotten hairy. For instance, a potbelly pig that used to be someone’s pet had grown to an enormous 220 pounds while in the wild. Somehow, the swine ended up on Main Street in Columbia and even bit someone who was walking.

Baker said the most challenging animal to capture is an alligator.

“Furbearers have big brains and are capable of multiple thoughts. But reptiles have a small brain that only thinks about eating and reproduction. Catching one of those requires you to get in the water with them at night,” he said. “You definitely don’t have the odds in your favor with them.”

Randall Baker’s life doesn’t just revolve around animals but it does revolve around helping others in need. Thirty-one years ago, Baker and a friend came upon a wreck of someone he knew. Sadly, that person had died in the crash.

“I couldn’t get the accident out of my mind, and I felt helpless. I wanted to be able to help people when they are in trouble. So, the day after that accident, I signed up to be on the volunteer rescue team. I was 16 years old,” Baker reminisced. “To me, the most rewarding part of being a volunteer first responder is seeing people months after their critical issue and they thank me for saving their life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

But, his volunteer service also extends to the Marion County Historical Society and the John Ford Home.

“I’ve always been a history nut. It’s hard not to be with as rich as our history is here in Marion County,” he said, “so, any reenactment or event I can help at, I do!”

Whether it’s a construction project, a volunteer position to fill, or a campout at the John Ford Home, visitors will find Randall Baker busy there.

When asked what it meant to him to be named one of the most interesting residents of Marion County, Baker smiled before coming up with his answer. “Honestly, it makes me feel like all the hard work that I’ve put in through the years is paying off. This is my home. The people in this county make it the best place in the world to me and I will serve here as long as I possibly can. This community is the best around.”

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