BY ELLEN GILLETTE
The 1984 movie Ghostbusters theme song asks “Who you gonna call?” when strange things happen. People with strange animal issues may call Taylor Runk, owner of Rats to Bats Wildlife Removal. And the removal aspect is key to his philosophy of conservation.
The job has its challenges. When someone called claiming to have a duck in his attic, Runk was skeptical.
“There actually was a large duck flying back and forth over a ton of eggs,” he explains. “We pushed it out of the roof line into a cage.”
Although the eggs were rotten, the duck was released onto the 40-acre piece of land Runk leases for such situations.
Invasive species must, by law, be terminated. Other healthy animals are relocated — if they need to be.
“We live in Florida,” Runk says. “A daytime sighting of a raccoon is probably a nursing mother just looking for food. Opossums look ugly and scary, but they don’t carry rabies and they’re very easy to deal with.”
The leased land also houses bees. Licensed and certified, Runk works with another beekeeper maintaining hundreds of hives there.
“Some are used for honey,” he says. “Others are shipped to areas as pollinators.”
Since most plants require cross-pollination, bees are vital to the health of the planet but their numbers have steadily declined for several decades.
“I get calls because of bees inside structures,” Runk says, “but also when they swarm outside.”
While some companies might rush over and charge for removal, Runk advises waiting a day.
“A swarm will usually just move on.”
Runk’s high standard for the way he runs his business is understandable because he built it himself from scratch.
“I’ll tell customers the way it is, whether they like it or not,” he says. “Honest and transparent — it’s easier to sleep that way.”
Runk started saving money as a child, rarely spending unless an item was necessary. At 14, he worked as a painter with his uncle. By 16, he’d saved enough money to buy his first car, a 1998 Pontiac Grand Am. He credits his upbringing with molding him.
“There was no back-up,” he says. “Nothing was free.”
Growing up in Port St. Lucie with his mother and grandmother, Runk played baseball and football as a youngster.
“High school,” he says, “is a blur. I got it in my head that I didn’t need school. I’d just work.”
He soon realized that he’d never be able to support himself with the type of jobs he could find as a dropout, however.
After Runk returned to school for his diploma, he joined the military, spending three years with the Florida National Guard. Although he downplays his own service, Runk prefers to hire veterans.
“My other full-time technician, Nick Savasta, is a combat vet, deployed three times, the real deal,” he explains. “Vets have backbone. I can train them.”
Runk’s goal was to eventually work with the Florida Wildlife Commission. Instead, he stumbled into the pest control field, working for a company that is now a competitor. In 2015, he launched out on his own, using his savings for vehicles, licenses, insurance, traps and other equipment he needed.
In addition to providing typical pest control service that must be repeated periodically, the wildlife removal that Runk offers is more specialized. At times, it is more dangerous. Potentially fatal diseases are associated with rat droppings, for example, and rodents make up the bulk of Runk’s business, requiring the use of HEPA filter respirators.
Bats are a close second in terms of frequency. Raccoon, opossum, feral hog and even coyote calls are not uncommon.
“There are preventative measures we could take,” Runk says, “but most homeowners and HOAs don’t act until someone’s dog is taken or the golf course is rooted up.”
Invasive species are dealt with differently than local animals or nonnative species that have no negative impact on the environment. Left unchecked, invasives dominate. Agama agamas, for instance, originated in Africa, but the common gray lizards with a red or yellow head have spread quickly in Florida.
“They eat our small lizards and songbird eggs and compete with local species for food.”
Runk’s staunch belief in conservation is not limited to his business. Primarily a bow hunter, he travels to Wyoming to hunt elk and even bear — but not for trophies.
“You have to control animal populations or they annihilate their own food supplies,” he says. “My type of hunting is for meat. Bear is actually very good.”
While carrying a 70-pound supply pack miles off the path to camp for 10 days isn’t everyone’s definition of fun, Runk says there’s nothing better.
Locally, he has hunted alligators and thinks there should be more licensed python hunters.
“In the Everglades, the number of raccoons alone, has dropped 99 percent because of pythons.”
Perception is everything — a raccoon in the Everglades is one thing, one in your attic is another. And perceptions change with time.
“When you’re young, you think it’s all happening then,” Runk says. “There’s so much more time than you think. You can start a career at 30. I truly enjoy doing this every day. It’s not the nine-to-five grind. I don’t see myself ever doing anything else.”
TAYLOR A. RUNK
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Owner-operator of Rats to Bats Wildlife Removal
Family: Mom, aunt and uncle, cousins
Education: Local schools and business-related training
Hobbies: Hunting, hiking, other outdoor activities
Who inspires me: “Teddy Roosevelt: His goal in life was conservation and parks services, preserving land for wildlife.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I went sky-diving once, up in Sebastian. I enjoyed it!”