TAMPA — Pesky squirrels that have been annoying patrons of Anderson Park may soon be gone.
The city of Tampa has hired a private trapper to round up the cute yet aggressive tree rodents and take them to an undisclosed new home on private property. The work begins Tuesday.
Families using the park in the Hyde Park neighborhood told the Tribune this week that the squirrels have become aggressive because people feed them. The squirrels show no fear as they invade picnics and even diaper bags seeking food.
To prevent other squirrels from following the same path at Anderson Park, the city will install squirrel feeders and new signs warning about the dangers of feeding the animals, said Greg Bayor, Tampa parks and recreation director. Educational material also will be distributed.
“We contacted Lowry Park Zoo and they are going to help us with the brochures,” said Bayor.
“People need to listen to the warnings,” added Karen Clark, with Lovely Lita’s Sheltering Tree Foundation, a Tampa rescue and rehabilitation operation. “They need to understand that it is not cute to feed squirrels.”
Still, Clark objects to the relocation plan.
She says moving them amounts to a death sentence, citing information on the website of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
As “nuisance wildlife,” the squirrels must be released within 24 hours of captivity to an off-site location within the county of capture, a minimum of 40 contiguous acres and written permission of the owner.
“It’s a popular myth that the animal that is a nuisance on your property can simply be ‘relocated,’” the website says. “However, it is rare that relocated animals have a good chance of survival.”
Reasons listed by Fish and Wildlife include stress from the move and a disadvantage in competing for food and shelter against animals already living in the area.
The man hired to move the squirrels, Bob Smith of Smitty’s Trapping Co., agreed this may be true for some animals, but not squirrels.
“Squirrels, raccoons and possums that were born down here all know how to find food on their own,” Smith said. “They’ll be fine.”
Smith would not disclose the area where he’ll relocate the squirrels and said he hasn’t yet counted how many he must move. He said he can relocate 10 to 14 of them a week. He said his traps are safe around children and pets.
Contacted by the Tribune earlier this week, parks director Bayor said the city would deal with the problem by placing more “Do Not Feed The Squirrels” signs around Anderson Park.
After visiting and witnessing the behavior of the squirrels, however, Bayor concluded signs were not enough.
Even if people stopped feeding them, the squirrels already living in the park would still try to swipe it, he said.