If It Slithers, Swims or Flies, He’s After It : Todd of the Jungle makes his living rounding up the wildest fugitives in South Florida. Some even become pets.


Todd Hardwick doesn’t do dogs and cats. He does buffalo. He wrestles baboons. He pries stubborn six-foot Asian monitor lizards from unlikely hiding places, fires tranquilizing darts at monkeys looting a house, drags angry alligators away from back doors.

He does snakes. You might have seen him do his largest snake, a 22-foot, 250-pound python he pulled from beneath a house in Ft. Lauderdale about four years ago. That capture was re-enacted for television’s “Rescue 911” and has been rebroadcast several times. Hardwick and the snake, Big Mama, also showed up as Johnny Carson’s guests on “The Tonight Show.”

Hardwick, 30, is an urban animal trapper, and the jungle he works is South Florida. Although the semitropical climate has always made this a fertile breeding ground for exotics--escapees and those deliberately turned loose--Hurricane Andrew in August, 1992, really blew open the doors. Miami’s Metrozoo, the University of Miami’s primate center, Monkey Jungle, Parrot Jungle and several other breeding facilities were in the storm’s path.


“There are a lot of animals out there,” Hardwick says. “At least 500 monkeys are unaccounted for, and of course people just release pets they don’t want anymore. Take snakes, for example. In South Florida, they thrive. A python or boa constrictor can grow three to four feet a year, so in five years you’ve got a monster.”

Hardwick, who is a lithe 130-pounder himself, lives for those monster calls. As the owner of Pesky Critters Nuisance Wildlife Control, he doesn’t mind being awakened in the middle of the night when a herd of buffalo break through a fence and start to roam the Florida Turnpike, or when a dozen wild hogs are tearing up a historic bay-front estate, or when a cougar is terrorizing a neighborhood. He’s actually received those calls.

But Hardwick makes his living capturing more common species who are making pests of themselves: raccoons using the swimming pool as a toilet, opossums in the attic, squirrels in the chimney. Last year, corralling back yard nuisance animals gave him an income of about $40,000.

Now Hardwick has taken on another role. He has been named the official nuisance alligator trapper for Florida’s two southernmost counties, stretching from Miami to Key West. Last month he was called to Big Pine Key to haul Grandpa, an 11-foot, 600-pound gator, out of a sinkhole after incessant feeding by tourists had made it dangerously gluttonous.

Since Grandpa was a celebrity, he was relocated. Usually, however, nuisance gators must be destroyed. Hardwick’s pay is the gator. A 10-footer, reduced to hide, meat, skull and teeth, can be worth about $450, Hardwick says.

Sure, it’s dangerous work. Hardwick has been hospitalized twice, both times after contracting blood poisoning from a relatively minor animal bite.


Hardwick lives in South Dade County with his partner and girlfriend, Jill Voight, in a menagerie of their own making. On their seven-acre lot are dozens of parrots, two South American ostriches, called rheas, a muntjac (a small Asian deer) and two pet alligators, Sawgrass and Wally. Inside the house the exotic theme continues in crafts and furniture made by Voight: lamps are blowfish with light bulbs inside; glass-topped coffee tables are cages for monitor lizards, red-foot tortoises, Colombian iguanas and Tokay geckos. African hedgehogs live in a TV cabinet; you can see them through the screen.

Although Hardwick doesn’t catch domestic animals, sometimes he will help out.

Recently, he offered advice on stopping a pack of dogs that was terrorizing a Coral Gables neighborhood, but he was listening for his pager to go off, hoping for a run-in with something more exotic.

“The circus is in town,” Hardwick said. “You know, I’ve got darts that will stop an elephant or a hippo even, so if one gets away and starts heading down U.S. 1, I’m going to get the call. And I’m prepared. I can catch anything.”