Chris Wirt, retired from a career as a Hillsborough County firefighter, is the franchise owner of AAAC Wildlife Removal of Tampa Bay, which specializes in removing nuisance animals, such as rats, bats, squirrels, raccoons and rattlesnakes, from people’s homes.
He also has the contract for Pasco County schools, whose animal problems may include juvenile raccoons scampering down hallways, bats under eaves and rats in the agricultural areas of the Future Farmers of America.
Wirt, 45, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about his encounters with uninvited wildlife rooming with humans.
Squirrels and rats get into attics. Is that where you find raccoons, too?
When they’re in houses they’re in the attics or the soffit areas. They’ll break in to have their kits. It’s safe. What they’ll do, they’ll break in one area and they’ll go to the complete other end so that they can keep their little ones safe from adult males and things like that. ...
A male raccoon, if he urinates somewhere, a female that’s having kits won’t go there because the males (who are not the father) will actually kill the kits to put the female back in heat. … Once (the babies) are no longer there, her hormones, because she’s no longer feeding them, her hormones will cause her to go back in a breeding cycle.
And the father has moved on – is that the way it works?
Well, she moved on from him (he laughs).
How many animals behave like that?
Well, (during food scarcity) rodents will actually breed with two different females, one for a food source and the other one to start a family, and then they’ll go back and forth. … They breed as soon as up to every 22 days.
What’s the worst rat problem you’ve seen?
We had a home that was in the Dade City area that we caught over 46 rats in three days. … They were in the attic and down in the walls.
Any particularly memorable removals?
We removed a monkey from an attic… over in the Gibsonton-Riverview area. Because of all the people that worked the carnivals (who) live in the Gibsonton area… they would have a pet that they weren’t supposed to have, and they just let it go.
I mean we’ve removed all kinds of stuff. We deal consistently with Florida Fish and Wildlife (Conservation Commission), helping with deer and other things, and with different rehabbers, helping with hawks and eagles and stuff like that.
Rats are exterminated, you say, but you relocate other wildlife.
By Florida law you can relocate. The animals have to be relocated in the same county that they’re caught, and you have to have written permission (from owners of) 40 acres or more contiguous.
When you went on the monkey removal, what did the owner think was in the attic?
A raccoon. … When I looked down from the roof with a flashlight – ‘cause it had ripped off one of the vents on the roof – I looked down in there and it actually looked like a raccoon laying there. Then when I got in the attic it definitely was not a raccoon. …
It did not want anything to do with me, so it took a good two and a-half, three hours to be able to capture it with a catchpole.
Have you ever been bitten?
We usually use bite gloves and things like that, but I’ve been scratched and they’ve bitten the gloves. We try to be safe – steel toes, long pants. Pretty much everybody wears boots because if you’re walking through a yard and a snake strikes at you, if you have pants that are not tight to you, not skin-tight, and you have boots on, there’s a high probability you’re not going to get bit. It’s not going to go all the way through.
You’ve been scratched by raccoons, squirrels and rats?
All of the above, I’ve been scratched and bitten. Like I say, the catch gloves, they’re bite gloves so they have Kevlar in them so they don’t usually get through it, but you can still feel that pressure. I’ve been bitten by bobcat kittens and they are very strong when they bite down, but it did not pierce the gloves.
Where did you catch the bobcats?
Safety Harbor. … Mom was actually hit by a car, and they were outside, but they were coming back and forth, trying to get food from a hole that was off of Philippe Parkway. They were coming in and out of the bushes and we caught them with some cat food and some tuna fish. … We took them to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary (for Wildlife) and she took them to Busch Gardens to get them checked out by the vet… and they were distributed to zoos and other places from there.
Do you get many calls on snakes?
Oh, yes, we remove a lot of snakes, from rat snakes to – we have a gentleman that’s with us that has his venomous (snake handling) license. … That way we’re completely legal. You have to have a special license through the state.
Have you removed rattlesnakes?
We’ve had rattlesnakes underneath sheds. We removed one in Palm Harbor that was under a shed. … They give live birth, so we actually had four small ones with her that we had to get out from under there.
How do you deal with coyotes?
We have to live-trap them. You can either use a cage trap or a trap that’s called a Collarum, which, basically, it’s kind of like it sounds. It throws it over their neck and then we have a stopper on it so it won’t choke them or anything… but it holds them and then we have to come and take them away alive.
Do you relocate them?
There’s the downside with that. We try to find it a home, usually a rehabber will help with that, and we can get it to a zoo or something like that. Because if you’ve ever seen the movie Homeward Bound… if it’s a canine, you could take it all the way to Georgia and it could still come back.
So does it generally have to be destroyed?
Unfortunately, if we can’t find a home for it, yes.