An entrepreneur finds a lucrative niche trapping gators.
Tampa (FSB magazine) -- Thirteen years ago, as an animal- control officer in Tampa, I started Animal Capture of Florida. It was a removal service, mostly trapping stray cats at apartment complexes. We didn't make much of a profit, so I increased margins by doing repairs-fixing holes raccoons made in the attic, etc. Five years ago we jumped at the chance to become the state-contracted alligator trapper for Hillsborough County. It looked like fun.
Our revenues come from a mix of gator and other animal removal and damage repair, and in a good month we'll gross up to $30,000. Revenue from catching gators depends entirely on the animal. The state contracts with one trapper for each county, and we make money by exhibiting or selling what we catch. A processor will pay as much as $1,000 for a big gator. The hide and meat are used commercially, but if the meat's bad from an infection, it cuts the price. Sometimes a gator's in such bad shape from fighting that we can't sell it, and we lose money removing it-as state agents, we are required to respond to each call at no charge. In the warmer months we'll show live nine- or ten-footers at company headquarters and charge a few bucks for admission.
Customers worry that when they call an alligator catcher, some smelly, sweaty guy in coveralls is going to track mud on the carpet. Impressions are important. We have five employees, and we all wear uniforms. We start with the simplest means of removal and work up, using lethal methods only if we have to. With a small gator -four to six feet-you've only got one chance to nab him, because he's fast. We get as close as we can, armed with a snatch hook attached to a big-game fishing line, and cast it with a heavy rod and reel. There's a tug-of-war before we get a second rope around him to tape his snout and legs. If we have our act together, my partner and I can rope one in two minutes.
Weight is an issue with the big guys. We have to tow them up the bank with a truck. I once caught and lost a 12-footer five times the same day. There's one alligator out there-a very elusive 12-foot bull. He lurks in a chain of lakes near a housing development. Someone will see him and call us, and we go running. By the time we get there, he's always gone. Someday we'll catch him. - As told to Scott BowenTo write a note to the editor about this article, click here.