Peering inside a brick wall, knees bent, Cliff Moore spots the coiled-up baby copperhead. “Okay, he hasn’t come out yet,” he says, shining his flashlight on the snake. “That’s where he spent the day, and he should be coming out, like, anytime.”
The snake is hunkered down inside the wall, the only barrier between civilization and a few untouched acres of land in Far North Dallas. Moore pokes at the snake with a broken stick. The copperhead hisses and begins to uncoil, and Moore reaches in with his right hand for the grab. “He’s at an aggressive stance—he knows we’re here,” warns his partner, Matt Tolnay. The copperhead jolts around to face Moore, revealing its fangs.
He eventually catches it, because he always does. Moore, a 56-year-old professional naturalist and wildlife specialist, has made it his life’s mission to catch and relocate animals. He started Animal Services Inc. in 1992 and now deals with cities, businesses, and homeowners all over North Texas, capturing hogs, squirrels, snakes, and alligators. (How many of these the company relocates every year, he says, is a trade secret.) He’s the only specialist authorized by Texas Parks and Wildlife who is actively capturing and relocating animals in the North Texas portion of the Texas blackland prairie—a grassland eco-region that stretches from the Red River to San Antonio. Moore drives his beat-up Chevy pickup 300 miles a day, gaining most of his business through word of mouth.
A typical job: Moore once spent four days observing an alligator that was roaming around a retirement community. He set up a 10-foot cage and watched the animal from 10 or 20 yards away, never making direct eye contact. “They know I’m there,” he says. “It’s body language, the way you move.” Eventually, after becoming comfortable with the cage, the alligator wandered into the trap all by himself. Moore took him to a wildlife sanctuary in McKinney.
“I recognize that animals have, realistically, the same emotional development and, in many ways, the same communication skills as humans,” he says.
Before founding Animal Services, Moore spent three years in the Coast Guard and another three years as a telecommunications engineer for the military before settling in Van Alstyne, an hour north of Dallas. That’s where he met a local rancher named Kirk McJunkin, who asked if he would help relocate a family of foxes. McJunkin had a construction business in Dallas and needed the foxes out of the old Dr Pepper bottling plant on Mockingbird Lane. Moore found the foxes and set up homemade traps to catch the mother and father. Then he snagged the two baby foxes, relocated the entire family to an animal sanctuary in East Texas, and started his career in wildlife management.
Which brings us back to the snake in the wall. A homeowners association has hired Moore, so he’ll keep catching the copperheads that are coming out of White Rock Creek in Far North Dallas. For now, he’s holding them in a series of aquariums at his house. He respects the relationship he has with them.
“I do believe in predator or prey,” Moore says, “and I’m not prey.”