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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Suburban Trapper

Air Date: Week of

Reporter Lisa Labuz travels on house calls with a modern day trapper who removes wild animals from the homes of people who've strayed into their territory — the expanding rural suburbs.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Many urban dwellers these days are leaving the big cities for homes and areas that offer rural beauty and open space. Of course, when people move to the outer 'burbs, there are certain things to consider. Get a good shovel to dig the car out of snowdrifts. A decent lawnmower. And the phone number of a licensed animal trapper, someone who could rid your house of creatures you now share the land with. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Lisa Labuz spent a recent Saturday with one such trapper and has this report.

LABUZ: Tom Sterai gets lots of unusual calls at unusual hours. People call Tom to have him evict unusual tenants from their homes.

STERAI: Squirrels, raccoons, skunks, possums, groundhogs -- I don't really do ground squirrels --

LABUZ: For nearly 13 years Sterai, the owner of All Wildlife Animal Eviction, has been ridding unwanted squirrels from attics, muskrats from window wells, and confused deer from suburban dining rooms. On this sunny Saturday, Tom is taking me on animal calls.

(Conversation inside a moving pickup truck)

STERAI: Right now, unfortunately, Mrs. Reporter, we're going to pick up a live skunk and hopefully things go well or you're not going to like traveling in this vehicle any more.

LABUZ: Oh, no --

STERAI: We're going to get to see real quick here if he's going to be all right. Last year I picked up about 120 skunks, and out of those 120 skunks... none of them sprayed.

LABUZ: Tom's blue pickup is piled high with small metal cages. The skunk traps are covered in cardboard in case an angry skunk decides to spray.

STERAI: I've got it, I've got it.

(A cellular phone rings)

STERAI: Hello. Yeah.

LABUZ: He also has 2 cellular phones which ring constantly. Business for Tom is brisk. He says it may be because more people are moving into far reaching suburbs and into the habitats of wild animals.

STERAI: And over the years, every once in a long, long time, every couple of years we would get a call in regards to, you know, we saw a beaver outside next to the lake. Well, I was always skeptical and said no, I've never seen a beaver. I would know, I -- you know -- trap animals for a living. Well, it comes to be now, you know, as the years have went on, I'd say we probably get a beaver call every other day, every couple days.

LABUZ: Although people living in these wooded suburbs move here to be closer to nature, many didn't anticipate animals moving in with them. While Sterai says that initially some homeowners are happy to let animals who do move in stay put, say, in an attic, they soon realize it's not a good idea.

STERAI: You have something in your home, you have to remove it. You can't just leave it stay up there, "Oh I don't mind them." They're trampling down the insulation, especially the raccoons move the insulation around a lot. They're pooping, peeing up there, bringing nesting in. We've taken as many as 6 leaf-sized garbage bags of squirrel nesting out of people's attics. That causes bugs and all sorts of fun problems.

LABUZ: But right now, Tom has a bigger problem on his hands: how to fetch a skunk without getting sprayed. As we pull up to a brick Colonial, Tom eyes 5 teen-aged boys in the driveway playing a radio and passing a basketball back and forth.

(A radio blares)

STERAI: Any talking going on could really screw up the situation here while I'm trying to remove him. You have a 50-50 chance whether he's going to spray. Everybody's got to get out of the yard and stay away. So here we go.

LABUZ: Tom puts on orange work gloves and sternly warns the kids and me of our impending doom should we get near the skunk. Wisely the kids take their radio and step across the street. I stay in the truck. Two days ago, Tom set a cage over the mouth of 1 of 2 holes of under the porch of this infested house, but since Tom has seen 4 sets of tracks he's not sure how many skunks are living here. I can see Tom's head over the hedge as he stoops down to peer inside. Reaching around the cage, Tom gently places one hand on either side and cautiously loosens the trap from the hole. He's caught one live but unmoving skunk. Tom gingerly lifts the package and nervously carries the live bomb to the back of his truck.

(Sound of the truck being loaded)

LABUZ: You got one.

STERAI: (Laughs) Yeah. Sure did. One stinky. And he's not, thank God.

LABUZ: After breathing a sign of relief, Tom re-sets a new trap in case the skunk has any friends.

(The pickup starts up)

LABUZ: We're soon off to Tom's next job: squirrels living in an attic in nearby Libertyville. Tom liberates most animals he traps in a large country release site. He says it's important for trappers to think about where and when they release animals.

STERAI: You don't want to just place animals in the winter time, per se, a possum. If you go and you let this possum go in the middle of winter, and you put him in the woods and he was living in the neighborhoods, there's a two-thirds chance that he is not going to make it.

LABUZ: But the weather is the least of this skunk's concerns. Because they're prone to rabies, Tom has to kill all the skunks he catches. He'll either use chloroform or an injection to put this one down. Unlike the skunk, Tom's not concerned about his future. He feels as long as cities continue to spread to outlying suburbs, his job is secure. For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Labuz in Chicago.



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