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Born To Be Wild: How One Man Controls Pests in Oxford

The Vassallo Interviews — Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor who interviews Oxford’s and our region’s leading personalities.
Mike Merchant does not have to work for a living because he’s living his dream. Involved with the wildlife of Oxford daily (and we’re not talking the bar scene), Mike has found a niche like few others have, putting his education to work for him where he wants to be.
IMG_0112HottyToddy.com – Mike, please tell our readers exactly what you do.
Mike Merchant – I resolve human/wildlife conflicts and remove problem animals. The name of my company is Wildlife Resolutions.
HottyToddy.com – What inspired you to go into this field?
Mike Merchant – My major at Tennessee Martin was agriculture. I have always been interested in pest control. Previously, I was a wildlife biologist technician with the USDA Wildlife Services.
HottyToddy.com – Why would someone hire you?
Mike Merchant – The laws are very specific about who can and cannot trap animals. It is illegal to trap many species without a license. Raccoons, possums and squirrels are all official game with the state of Mississippi and cannot be trapped out of season. People hire me to eliminate an animal or reptile causing them problems. I have a catch-and-release program, which is very humane. (Note: Mike captured a groundhog at our house recently that had been making tunnels that would rival those in Gaza.)
HottyToddy.com – Tell us about your background.
Mike Merchant – I grew up in Scott County. I have always been interested in wildlife. While at UT Martin, I was a member of the National Championship Rodeo Team. I won the individual championship in Saddle Bronc.
HottyToddy.com – What types of wildlife are we dealing with in Oxford and Lafayette County?
Mike Merchant – The deer have a large population here along with beaver, coyotes, raccoons, gray fox, skunks and hogs are all plentiful.
HottyToddy.com – What about the red fox?
Mike Merchant – They are more rare. A typical red weighs 10 to 12 lbs, whereas the Grays are smaller at 8 to 10. The red fox prefers open fields to cover for the gray. A gray fox will climb, whereas a red will not. The coyotes in Lafayette County have driven the red fox into Oxford, and this is the primary reason you do not see more skunks around town.
HottyToddy.com – Over the past 12 years I have seen just about every species on our property (including a black panther) except for a snake. How is this possible?
Mike Merchant – Typically you won’t have snakes if mice are not present.
HottyToddy.com – Tell us about one of your more interesting challenges.
Mike Merchant – It took me 3 weeks to capture a coyote tormenting cats around the Square. They are the most difficult animal in North America to catch. The one I trapped was a big male weighing about 40 to 50 pounds. These animals often run in family groups during certain times of the year.
HottyToddy.com – We haven’t yet discussed bobcats.
Mike Merchant – They have a healthy population in Lafayette County. Most of us do not see them because they are nocturnal creatures.
HottyToddy.com – Groundhogs are appearing all over the city it seems.
Mike Merchant – I saw the first one here about 10 years ago. They are now very plentiful. Groundhogs are territorial. They are still not listed by the state in the Wildlife Guide.
HottyToddy.com – One of your previous clients (where you captured 4 of these critters) nicknamed you Crocodile Dundee in a favorable sense. Do you have a nickname?
Mike Merchant – A place that I worked nicknamed me “The Legend.”
HottyToddy.com – Can your job be dangerous at times?
Mike Merchant – Yes it can. I occasionally have to climb to frightening heights after squirrels or enter very closed, confined areas to catch a snake.
HottyToddy.com – Have you been ever bitten?
Mike Merchant – A Coyote got me pretty good just recently. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen too often.
HottyToddy.com – How is your business this year?
Mike Merchant – It’s up 10 percent over last year. I’m on my 112th job in Oxford for the year.
HottyToddy.com – What are the most common problems in Oxford?
Mike Merchant – Squirrels do the most damage to buildings, and raccoons enter buildings in the spring to breed. Armadillos, moles and groundhogs are detrimental to landscapes.
HottyToddy.com – What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Mike Merchant – I enjoy helping people and wearing a ‘white hat’. I am an adrenaline junkie, and each situation is unique. However, when involving animals, you can go from hero to zero in a New York minute!
HottyToddy.com – When I was a student at Ole Miss in the ’60s, we never saw deer. Now they are everywhere. Why so?
Mike Merchant – The Restoration Program of Wildlife and Fisheries is the primary reason. This was started in the 1970s and has been very effective.
HottyToddy.com – Will the wildlife population in Oxford and Lafayette County remain strong despite our enormous growth?
Mike Merchant – It will depend mostly on the available cover. A healthy wildlife population is a direct reflection of the ecosystem around us. And it influences our lives as well. All species here are doing well because of the wet spring we had. Groundhogs are increasing very fast. I’ve had more calls this year involving raccoons than ever before.
HottyToddy.com – If someone needs your services, how would they reach you?
Mike Merchant – They can call me at (662) 234-5544 or (662) 832-WILD.
Mike Merchant is definitely following his passion. I can recommend this gentleman very highly. Not only does he know what he’s doing, he will educate you in the process. He would be a most interesting speaker to almost any group. The next time you see a strange set of eyes staring at you in your backyard at night, it might be time to call “The Legend.”
Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communicationssubjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. In addition, he is a certified economic and community developer and currently, a highly successful leader in the real estate business with Premier Properties of Oxford. Steve’s lifelong dream has been to live in Oxford full-time. “I am now living my dream daily as is my wife Rosie, who works with the Oxford Chamber of Commerce,” Steve said. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.comor call him at 985-852-7745.

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