Urban Miami

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A new episode of Wild Nights with Mireya Mayor premieres Monday August 23 9P et/pt.

By Emily Mraz

Working as a freelance producer is always a trip.  Moving from project to project is a lot like getting a new job in a completely different line of work.  Each new job brings new subject matter and a whole world of people I would have never come in contact with otherwise, and my current gig is no exception.  For years now I’ve been wrapped up in the food and travel world, eating my way around the globe.  Now, at National Geographic, I am immersed in an entirely different subject… a new series about urban wildlife.  It’s a welcome change working with live animals as opposed to all the pigs, chickens, and other game I’ve seen butchered over the years, with one obvious difference.  It’s a whole lot easier to schedule and film things on plates than live, wild animals running around a city.

It seemed I had left my cushy world of gourmet chefs and 5-course meals to scour dark alleyways and sewers for signs of life.  The task of tracking down a cast of unpredictable animals in a place where most people rarely go to search for wildlife seemed like an impossible task.  Until I started to enlist some help.

It turns out that there are plenty of people whose livelihood depends on the abundance of city wildlife.  One of them, Todd Hardwick, became my go-to-guy for animal encounters in our Miami episode.  Todd has been trapping animals in the Miami area for over 30 years now and after years of rescues his backyard has become a virtual zoo.  Tropical birds, turtles, emus, and donkeys are all animals he rescued from the streets of Miami or who were wandering through the Everglades.

His rescue stories sound more like fiction than fact or at least like someone living in a remote jungle and not a metro area of over 2 million people.  “I had a monkey running through downtown Miami for about a week and a half before we finally captured it using the fire department’s ladder truck,” Todd told us in an interview.  “I had an 11-foot crocodile come ashore at 5th street in South Beach and park himself in the sand.  I had a prairie dog running down the metro rail.  I’ve had pythons literally everywhere.  I’ve had them in hotel rooms.  I’ve had them in swimming pools, in lakes and canals.  I’ve had them on aircraft, on buses, in rental cars.”

Todd explained that a lot of escaped or abandoned pets survive in Miami because the climate is so mild.  So much so that he has captured animals from all over the world without ever leaving Miami.  It’s amazing to me that all of this exists right under our noses.  I’ve visited Miami a number of times and never once thought about pythons, crocodiles or monkeys pounding the pavement.  There aren’t many jobs out there that expose you to such a range of subjects and people the way television does.  Who knows where I’ll wind up on my next job or what sort of subject matter I’ll be dealt, but one thing’s for sure, it will always be an adventure.

Video Preview: Mireya teams up with the Chicken Busters to catch some of Miami’s most notorious wildlife – roosters.