HODGES — Earle Readett plunged his rake into the brisk creek Thursday morning behind a client’s house, moving it around under the murky water before pulling out a mostly empty trap.
He worked to reset the 3-foot long trap, which held mostly leaves, sticks and a lone crawfish, before setting it back down in the water, half of it resting above the surface on a beaver dam.
After dusting off his boots, he headed on to the next trap.
He’ll come back a day or two later to check on the beaver that’s blocking a family’s creek and water source with dams.
Readett will check nearby traps he’s laid every other day to make sure the animals get released somewhere safe.
“Normally, I’ll catch them alive if possible,” Readett said. “But unfortunately, sometimes they create their own situation where they drown because the water’s too high.”
Readett runs Wildlife Wrangler of the Lakelands and uses live traps to capture animals wreaking havoc on people’s property, such as beavers, as humanely as he can.
But if the beaver builds up a dam after he’s laid his trap and then gets caught in it, the water level will rise and submerge the trap, drowning the animal.
Finding a dead animal is his least favorite part about the job.
From a young age, Readett’s felt compassion toward animals.
At 9 years old, he scooped up several baby cottonmouth snakes in a cup and ran to show his aunt the wriggling, venomous vipers.
“She said, ‘Oh Earle, don’t you ever do that again,’” Readett said.
But later, his aunt brought him a garter snake she found while working in their garden, which he kept as a pet for a year.
“One time, I had the flu and I had to stay home from church that day, and I just got that snake out and let it crawl around inside,” Readett said.
As a child, Readett wanted to pursue wildlife management.
He started the Wildlife Wrangler of the Lakelands five years ago part time while he worked in pest control, and after a year in the business, he quit his job and started capturing animals full time.
“I’ve always loved wildlife anyway, but I ended up not getting into it,” Readett said. “But this is kind of my way of getting into it finally.”
Most pest control companies don’t capture animals for customers, and the idea to start his company came when a customer asked if they could take care of some bats.
“I said, ‘No, we sure don’t, but I can look into it for you,’” Readett said.
Now he captures beavers, squirrels, skunks, armadillos, opossums, bats, raccoons and any other varmint a customer calls him about.
Although he hasn’t caught a coyote, he’s prepared if the need arises.
His goal is to capture them unharmed and release them miles away from homes.
Besides venomous snakes, Readett said the only time he uses a kill-trap is after he’s exhausted all other resources in keeping squirrels out of someone’s home and there’s fear of the animal chewing through wires and starting a fire.
Injured animals he takes to PAWS Animal Wildlife Sanctuary in Waterloo, otherwise, most of the animals find a home in the Sumter National Forest.
Besides his desire to safely relocate animals, Readett loves the hunt — when a customer calls and isn’t quite sure what creature is walking around in their attic, or when dams keep popping up with no apparent beavers, Readett is at his best.
“I enjoy doing the scouting and everything I have to do,” Readett said while eyeing the mended dam he’d already destroyed once.
Barbara Lang, who’s been a customer of Readett’s for several years, calls him frequently to help out with her squirrel- and armadillo-related problems.
“I started having a problem with big holes under the latticework around my deck, and so he’s caught six armadillos now for me,” Lang said. “I’ve recommended him to a lot of other people too.”
Lang said anytime someone talks about having critter problems, she tells them to call the wrangler.
“He is just the nicest guy,” Lang said.
Contact staff writer Ariel Gilreath at 864-943-5644 or follow on Twitter @IJARIELGILREATH.