Wildlife in the City

Words by Kerry Speckman

Austin Huhn will never forget his first day of on-the-job training in Orlando as a wildlife removal expert.

“We’re walking up to the client’s house and before we even get to the door, two 200-pound dudes come out sweating bullets, looking like they just saw a ghost,” he recalled. “One guy looked at me with his sunglasses down, like, ‘Oh, boy.’”

The homeowners had been experiencing issues in their bathroom and called the plumbers, who were obviously not prepared for what they were about to find. 

“We walk in the bathroom. The toilet’s tipped over. One of the guys puts his glasses down again, looks at me and goes to get a camera,” Huhn said before he and his boss pulled out a 2½-foot iguana from between the floor and the sewage pipe.

“The poor, poor thing. He looked like he was a second away from death. It was coming out of the sewer system into the toilet but couldn’t get out because of the S curve,” he added. “No one had any idea until the plumbers saw it and ran out of there.”

Huhn, on the other hand, was hooked. He continued training and working in Orlando and South Florida before opening Jax Wildlife Removal with business partner Andrew Spinato in 2009.

Unlike most pest control companies that simply place traps and cart off unwanted critters, Jax Wildlife Removal uses a number of techniques to get animals to leave the space on their own, then work to eliminate the issue from happening again.

Simply trapping the animal and removing it, he said, isn’t a long-term solution. “Once an animal has been there, they feel like they live there, so they’re just going to keep coming back. Then what are you going to do? I want to come there, solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.”

Using special equipment, tricks of the trade and even some science, Huhn can usually get the unwanted houseguest off the premises without having to trap it or touch it. “We use exclusion methods, where we give the animal a way out and deny them entry back in,” he said. “The animal leaves on its own terms and we prevent it from returning.”

After the intruder is gone and verified (sometimes by a wildlife camera set up in their former “home”), Huhn cleans up the space and then begins the most critical part of the job: sealing up any point(s) of entry, which could be something as simple as a rotted soffit. 

A typical day for Huhn (as if there is such a thing) involves the usual suspects — raccoons, birds, opossums, squirrels, rats — but have also included bats (one found in a homeowner’s shower) and snakes (frequently found in garages but also found hidden in a yoga mat). Even when he’s off the clock, he’s doing something to help animals, like escorting turtles trying to cross busy streets. 

Huhn is passionate about what he does, not only to help homeowners regain control of their living spaces but also to protect the animals that wander in. “I’ve always been into animals. As a kid, I used to go to the Miami Serpentarium and nerd out,” he said. “It’s definitely a specialty service, and each client is different. Each situation is different. The animals are different. Like I tell people, you wouldn’t call a mechanic for a plumbing job.”

Or a plumber for an iguana removal.

 

About Kerry Speckman