When we think about exotic species, our minds almost always turn to trips to the zoo or watching TV programs such as Discovery or Animal Planet. However, there are men and women who earn their living capturing some of those exotic, and not so exotic but pesty, creatures right here in our backyard.
Living here on the edge of the Everglades, we often hear about hunts for some of the most troublesome species, such as Burmese Pythons or one of the newest disturbing invaders, the Cane Toad.
So, when we had a chance to meet a professional trapper of some of these creatures, the Coastal Breeze News took advantage of the opportunity to sit down with just such a professional and discuss his interesting line of work.
Kenne Helm has been in Southwest Florida since 1999. Having spent time in the military, he initially put his unique skill sets to work in security and professional protection services. Then, about three years ago, he met a “professional trapper” when that individual was looking for some additional help, and found the work right up his alley. He then created his own company, Trapper Helm Nuisance Wildlife Removal Services, dealing with both commercial and residential customers when needed.
For a portion of the work that Helm does, he is required to hold a Furbearer Trapping License from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), along with a full list of other licenses required under state and federal law.
One of the most mentioned nuisance wildlife being dealt with here in Southwest Florida is the ever-growing population of iguanas found in our area. No special licenses are needed for dealing with this invasive species, but Helm warns that iguanas can be aggressive and are capable of inflicting serious wounds with their sharp teeth, with the added potential of infection from bacteria in their mouths. “They have a very strong bite, similar to a pit bull. They also can inflict damage by the whip of their tails, which can sting you,” said Helm.
Iguanas presently are entering the end of their mating season, but shortly will begin depositing eggs. Helm said he captured a female the other day north of Naples that was carrying 30 eggs. The only way to control that ever-increasing population is through humane euthanasia.
Helm finds himself capturing the nuisance iguanas during daylight hours when they are most active, inflicting damage to equipment, boats, mooring covers and furniture around a home, plus depositing their waste materials. Iguanas have also been known to cause damage to seawalls by burrowing into the French drain systems along those walls.
The Cane Toads which have become another issue here in South Florida were actually an unintended consequence of trying to control invasive beetles that were attacking sugar cane fields in South Florida in the 1930s and 1940s. At approximately the same time, they were introduced into Australia from Hawaii in 1935 to control the cane beetle there. In the United States, it is believed that pet trade releases and escapes expanded them into Central and Southern Florida.
The toad excretes a toxin which is seen as a milky white substance on its back. That toxin is especially harmful to pets such as dogs and cats and may be fatal. The toad itself may only be disposed of in what is described as “humane ways,” according to FWC here in Florida.
The population is rapidly expanding across South Florida and, as we enter the rainy season, they will become more and more visible. Helm advises pet owners to immediately wash out the mouths of their pets, wipe the insides of their mouths with a wet cloth and seek emergency care should they encounter the species.
They are tan to reddish brown, dark brown or gray, and their backs are marked with dark spots. They also have large triangular parotid glands on their heads behind each ear from which they secrete that milky toxin. They have a smooth head, unlike harmless toads which exhibit ridges or “crests” on top of the head. If they are found, FWC suggests they be destroyed.
Helm cautions homeowners not to handle the toad without protection. When called regarding the problem, he comes out in the evening hours to hunt for the species, explore for their habitat and destroy breeding grounds. They live underground, need fresh water and are attracted to light.
Helm also deals with other pests such as raccoons, and even Muscovy Ducks, which are native to Mexico, South and Central America. They too are considered an invasive species and can carry diseases not normally encountered by native birds. They are territorial in nature and can be aggressive to pets and humans.
Helm will trap them, as he will other pests such as raccoons, bats and snakes, and remove them from your home or property. Raccoons can do great damage in a home. He usually traps the pesky invader and relocates it to a more appropriate environment.
When asked about snakes, the subject quickly turns to the Burmese Python. He has captured a few of those, the closest being near Hammock Bay just off Marco Island. That particular specimen was eight feet long. A passing motorist spied the creature and called him when he was local in the area. Helm was able to capture the snake and dispose of it.
You can reach Helm through his website at www.trapperhelm.com, look him up on his Facebook page or call him at 239-919-6438 to discuss your needs.