Jeff Carver and Marc Hammond walk through the desert near Saguaro National Park West carrying a green bucket with a perforated lid.
“I found one!” Carver calls and motions to a hole framed by a tangle of desert vegetation, mesquite pods and cholla cactus at the base of a mesquite tree.
He had found a pack rat’s nest to release a rhumba of rattlesnakes — yes, that’s what a group of rattlesnakes is called — born four days before. No pack rat was present, but its midden will provide temporary shelter to the young snakes.
The snakes are only 6 inches long, a finger-width wide and have a silent button tail instead of a full rattle. Each was plucked from the green bucket using snake tongs and placed in the entrance of the pack-rat den.
They quickly slithered in.
“They wouldn’t do that if they were adults,” Hammond said. But these siblings are unsentimental. “They won’t stay together long,” he said. “By tomorrow they’ll be spread out.”
The young rattlers were birthed by a rattlesnake that Hammond removed from someone’s property, which is all part of a day’s work at Arizona Animal Experts Inc.
Hammond and Carver, along with four contracted employees, receive about 50 calls a week, night or day, to remove almost any kind of critter: large, small, scaly, furry, winged, fanged or stinky from the property of (often) distressed customers.
Once an animal is contained, never killed, the company’s policy is to do anything it can to release it into the wild or rehabilitate it.
Their work has not gone unnoticed.
The National Geographic Wild Channel filmed the Arizona Animal Experts and three other animal relocation teams across the country for a year to produce a new show called “When Nature Calls.”
It premieres Monday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. Tucson time. The first show features Hammond and Carver releasing a pigeon-eating bobcat they captured in a coop. See a clip at National Geographic Wild website at tucne.ws/obg
The Animal Experts been approached in the past by other networks for spots on reality TV, but they rejected most of the proposals because they were asked to create fake drama, something they weren’t comfortable doing.
“They wanted us to get into fights,” Carver said, “but there’s enough drama between the clients and the animal.”
The show focuses on teams that do animal relocation, which has been a company policy since its founding 27 years ago. Hammond and Carver founded the company when Pima Animal Care Center, then called Pima County Animal Control, cut funding for animal capture.
PACC opened the job up to the private sector, so the duo started out collecting feral cats and skunks. This move was followed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department cutting its animal removal program as well, focusing on mountain lion and bear removal now.
That leaves Animal Experts to remove and relocate almost any animal from anyone’s property, if they think it’s necessary for animal and human safety.
Hammond and Carver strive to take the most humane path when deciding what to do with the animal once captured and balancing that with the needs of the community.
“Our business has always been that way,” Carver said.
While working as animal cruelty investigators at PACC, they witnessed a lot of cruelty and death. The experience shaped their company ethos.
“Being a snake should not be a capital offense,” Carver said. “There’s no sense in killing an animal that’s doing what it was put here to do.”
Educational outreach is also folded into their company mission as well.
“Jeff and I thought it was so important to educate the children that we’re still doing it today,” and at no cost, Hammond said.
They’ve posted videos to Facebook for years as well.
“We’re educating people, we talk about conservation or the environment, or why this animal is so important or why we’re releasing the animal here instead of over there,” Hammond said.
Educational outreach is one of the reasons National Geographic Wild reached out to them in the first place, Hammond said, and why they agreed to be a part of it.