Capturing critters - The Explorer: Business

Capturing critters

Animal Experts snare snakes, 'coons … even a monkey

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Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:21 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Critters. There are plenty of them in Southern Arizona that can make life interesting for humans.

Think about bobcats, raccoons, skunks, badgers, rattlesnakes and bull snakes sharing your outdoor living space. You might even have the problem of a mallard duck in your swimming pool.

Who are you going to call?

Animal Experts.

Marc Hammond and Jeff Carver are partners in the Northwest Tucson wildlife extraction firm that's been helping homeowners with recalcitrant animal life for 18 years.

The men worked together at Pima County Animal Control, and enjoyed the work so much they went into business together. Carver still works for Pima County Animal Control as an enforcement supervisor. Hammond retired from the agency earlier this year.

"I learned a lot from wildcat wildlife rehabilitator Sara Gorby on the techniques of capturing certain desert animals," Hammond. "But in this business, much of it is trial and error."

Hammond said his first captures were javelina.

"We used a walker retrofitted with a steel cage around it like a pen," he said. "We'd chase the javelina, and it would charge the walker. Then I'd pick up the walker and ram the spikes into the ground to trap the animal."

Carver said when the pair first started in business, they thought they mostly would be catching feral cats and skunks.

"We stepped into an open niche that turned out to cover rattlesnakes, bobcats, squirrels, raccoons and other animals," Carver pointed out.

A big part of their job is education.

"We spend a lot of time with homeowners to prevent them from being victims," Carver said. "For instance, we turn down more bobcat calls than we take. We tell people to take a picture unless the bobcat is stalking them or their kids or a dog."

Hammond agreed.

"If you take one bobcat out of an area and there's an abundant food source, another one will move into that same area," he said.

The largest number of calls to Animal Experts in a year are those involving rattlesnakes.

"We're very busy during the summer with rattlesnakes and we also do a lot of education with people and dogs about the snakes," Hammond pointed out. "Besides rattlesnakes, we find a lot of raccoon babies in houses during the summer. Sometimes we have to cut open the walls to get the animals."

Pack rats are the nemesis of most folks in Southern Arizona, especially those living on the outskirts of built-up areas, said Carver.

"They get into the roof of a house or chew up the wiring of vehicles outside," he said. "The biggest attractant for pack rats is a prickly pear cactus because it provides them with food, water and shelter."

Carver recommended pruning prickly pear cactus up off the ground to eliminate the shelter aspect. He also advised to screen any vents into the house, and make sure the roof line is closed up because "pack rats are adept at getting into small spaces."

What are some of the unusual captures?

One involved a monkey that escaped in Picture Rocks and was loose for a week. An area woman lured it into her house with fruit and called Animal Experts to capture it.

"Jeff heads over there and sets up dog crates before chasing the monkey around the house," Hammond said. "The monkey avoided the crates and tore around the house, doing $8,000 worth of damage. The lady was a school teacher and had ink pads in the house, which the monkey got into and left monkey prints all over."

Carver continued the story.

"I threw a net over it, but it bit through the net in two bites," he said. "I fended it off with the net handle, then snared it with a catch pole. The monkey grabbed the pole shaft and pulled himself up toward me and slipped out."

Carver called Hammond for back-up in capturing the simian.

"Half of Picture Rocks was watching us through the house windows," Hammond said. "The monkey is sitting on top of the china cabinet and I shot it with a tranquilizing dart. The monkey didn't flinch, but pulled the dart out of his thigh, looked at me, and then went nuts."

Later they determined the medication a vet had prescribed wasn't a tranquilizer, but rather an antagonist.

"Finally, Marc snared the monkey, but it was still a struggle because he was bouncing around on the end of the pole," Carver said. "But we finally got him in the carrier."

While most captures aren't as eventful as the monkey chase, Hammond and Carver have had to deal with a 14-foot Burmese python, two alligators, a crocodile monitor, and even a mallard duck that had set up its home in a Northwest resident's swimming pool.

"You have to respect animals," Hammond said. "I'm scarred from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. We have to be 100 percent focused on what we're doing or else there could be trouble."

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