Tampa snake removal can require licensed animal removal experts
Bryan Cleveland says removal calls that involve nonvenomous varieties like this red rat snake, don't require a permit. (Photos by John Zambito)
Although several years have passed, Angie’s List member Nancy McGreevy of Palm Harbor remembers the incident well. While employed at a day care, she checked the playground prior to recess and discovered a poisonous reptile she immediately recognized as a coral snake.
The center’s phone list included only one trapper qualified to handle poisonous reptiles: Bryan Cleveland, owner of highly rated Nuisance Wildlife Trappers in Pinellas Park, Fla. “He removed the snake within the hour and checked for other snakes,” McGreevy says.
Although many trappers and animal removal contractors deal with the majority of the 44 snake species native to Florida, handling Florida’s six native venomous snakes requires special training and a state venomous reptile permit. The native venomous snakes include cottonmouths; copperheads; coral snakes; and diamondback, pigmy and canebrake rattlesnakes.
According to Katie Purcell of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which issues the licenses, only 14 individuals or organizations hold venomous reptile permits in the Tampa area — most of them facilities such as the Lowry Park Zoo or the St. Petersburg Serpentarium. Only Cleveland removes snakes from residences on a regular basis.
Cleveland, one of Angie’s List’s Best Contractors in Tampa in 2009 and a 20-year veteran trapper who removes rats, raccoons and other wildlife, worked hard for his venomous reptile license. “You have to have worked with a wildlife biologist or licensed venomous reptiles trapper for a minimum of 1,000 hours for them to even consider the application,” he says. “If you think you’ve got a poisonous snake, you should ask your trapper if he holds a venomous reptile license.”
After catching a venomous snake, Cleveland relocates it to a rural property 60 miles away. While in transit, the snakes must be secured in at least a stout cloth sack and a secure box. He charges $185 for snake removal, and $250 if the snake turns out to be venomous.
Dave Castle, an exotic pet breeder in Riverview who holds a permit, says he receives a call for removal every six months or so, but has yet to encounter a venomous snake. “Usually by the time I get there, they’ve already left,” says Castle, who relies on snake hooks, tongs and other professional tools when handling venomous snakes.
Cleveland says requests for snake removal come several times a week, but few turn out to be venomous due to increased development in the Tampa area. “A decade ago, I’d see five or 10 venomous snakes a month,” he says. “These days, I get only a few real poisonous cases a year.”
Purcell of the conservation commission says most snakes remain passive unless provoked or cornered, and will leave when humans approach. If you spot a snake and aren’t sure if it’s venomous or have another concern, she recommends calling a trapper or the commission. “If you find a snake, the best and safest thing to do is leave it alone,” Purcell says.
For more information about different snake species and what to do if you encounter one, go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Living With Snakes guide.