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Guardians of the Glades exclusive: Dusty Crum on man-made imbalances in Florida and what can be done

Dusty Crum is one man who has dedicated himself to righting the imbalances in Florida's Everglades
Dusty Crum is one man who has dedicated himself to righting the imbalances in Florida’s Everglades. Pic credit: Discovery

There’s a new nature TV star at Discovery – Dusty “The Wildman” Crum, who stars in the latest series Guardians of the Glades for the network.

Florida has a multitude of ecological problems wreaking havoc right now, from snakes and lizards to environmental changes and the state is in dire need of attention.

The gigantic Burmese python was dubbed by the New York Times as “the Snake That’s Eating Florida” and the equally invasive Argentinian Tegu lizard is eating up all the eggs of the native turtles and gators. Not to mention out-of-control algae blooms ruining the coastal resorts and stinking up the inter-coastal waterways.  Then there’s concern from residents over the rising sea waters to add to this stress.

Discovery has tapped this local hero drafted in the fight to restore some natural balance. Dusty has made a splash on the news and even appeared on History’s recent Swamp People Season 10, paired with Jacob Landry.

Sharp-eyed fans will remember it was this “wild man” from Florida who balked at wearing shoes and was lectured by the eldest son of Swamp King Troy Landry that he better get some gear on his feet.

It only took one alligator bite but Dusty Crum learned fast and added gator hunter (and wearing shoes in Louisiana) to his unusual CV and really added some interest to a diverse cast for the now-wrapped season.

Crum's sense of humor was on display during his short run on Swamp People. Pic credit: History
Crum’s sense of humor was on display during his short run on Swamp People. Pic credit: History

He even made a pair of sneakers out of one unlucky Python to wear on the gator boat in Louisiana.

The premise of this new Discovery series focuses on the main show: Florida’s front-page news level urgency in the battle against the very large Burmese python and the exploits of one reptilian bounty hunter, Dusty “The Wildman” Crum.

His path to becoming a conservancy superhero of sorts was not through academia (Jeff Corwin) or being born into a family like the late Steve Irwin’s progeny. Dusty’s was more circuitous, playing upon his native son-level of comfort of running barefoot through the teeming-with-wildlife swamps of the Sunshine state with wild abandon which is likely how he earned the “Wildman” moniker.

The series premiered last week and follows Crum and his colorful team as they hunt the invasive species that has upset the natural order and decimated local wildlife.

Discovery’s intent for the series is timely and follows the news pegs that are flying out of the state with warnings of catastrophic ecological events that are threatening the Florida wilderness in a well-produced day-in-the-life of this team of invasive species hunters.

Monsters & Critics spoke to Crum, who shared his background and talked about his crew, his dog and his worries for his home state.

Dusty's level of comfort wrasslin' snakes is unparalleled. Pic credit: Discovery
Dusty’s level of comfort wrasslin’ snakes is unparalleled. Pic credit: Discovery

Monsters & Critics: Dusty it’s so wonderful to talk to you. The Discovery Channel found you… but how did they find you?

Dusty Crum: Well, really I was doing some other television stuff and I knew that somebody wanted to do this show and I kind of … I went out to Los Angeles three times and on the third time, I got a meeting with Discovery. I tried showing them some videos. I had home videos and stuff and so it went from there.

M&C: What’s a physical telltale sign that there’s a python that’s moved into the area? 

Dusty Crum: When you don’t see any other wildlife. You don’t see any squirrels or any other game and it’s a ghost town. You know there’s something wrong there.

M&C: Interesting. And how many episodes do we have for you on the series?

Dusty Crum: Well, we got six to start with, so it’s kind of a trial thing. I hope everybody enjoys it and they learn something, they laugh, they love, they get the… I get to show a piece of Florida and a piece of our swamp off to everybody.

M&C: What is your formal education background? How did you come into the work that you do now?

Dusty Crum: My background is construction. You know, Florida we build houses and stuff. I’ve done every kind of job digging a ditch, swinging a hammer, whatever it takes. Pouring concrete and all that stuff.

But once I got involved with the pythons, and I saw the impact of what was happening in the Everglades, I just wanted to do whatever I could to stay down there and hunt. So I’ve been… Got hired by the water management district and I’ve been hunting with them as a bounty hunter for the last two years.

Then I take the skins and try to turn them into leather products, fine leather goods and stuff to try to supplement my income to try to help me stay hunting. Because really we get minimum wage and it’s $8.35 an hour and it’s first take bounty. So if you’re catching, it’s good, but we put a lot of wear and tear on our trucks, tires, fuel, I mean it’s on and on.

M&C: I saw you on Swamp People and I know that you’re very comfortable being barefoot and in the swamp. You’re very comfortable with nature, where a lot of people would be suited up and very kind of concerned about even touching the ground.

Dusty Crum: Bugs and stuff like that, yeah.

M&C: Yeah. And yet you sort of roll with it. When did you know that you had this affinity to hunt reptiles? How did you know that you could do this?

Dusty Crum: Well I mean, as a young kid growing up in Florida, I was running around barefoot catching every little snake or alligator, anything I could get my hands on to try to prank my mother with and take it in the house and show it off and all that.

Growing up as a kid, I never imagined in my wildest dreams I’d be able to catch giant constrictors in the wild. So once I caught my first snake, it’s an adrenaline rush and I’m hooked to it. It’s the same feeling every snake I catch, you know?

M&C: Yeah and it seems like the Everglades have become this garbage can for people who make bad decisions about pets. Where is the blame for the python? It’s an invasive species, it’s not native to Florida. Who brought this snake to Florida and how did it get out of control?

Dusty Crum: You know, the thing is, it’s man that wants to take a snake that’s a wild snake from another country and make it a pet or you know, make it exotic and that’s why we bring them to the country. It’s a trade. Miami has always been a hub for pet trade.

M&C: So… people get pets, they have buyers remorse, they release them, and the Everglades have become this magnet for all of these creatures that seem to flourish including crocodiles too…

Dusty Crum: Yeah, I mean there’s gaming. We just got the okay from the South Florida Water Management District to go after any invasives. So we can get Caimans, we can get the Argentine Tegus, we can get iguanas. I mean there’s so many.

There’s veiled chameleons, there’s Tokay geckos, Cuban anoles…it goes on and on and on.

The rock pythons have been established in a certain area, African rock pythons. There’s a lot of invasive snakes down there and it’s really taken its toll on the environment, the ecosystem there [in the Glades].

M&C:  Other than the python that you hunt, that the show is sort of hanging its hat on, on this large snake, is there a particular species of reptile that kind of gives you real worry that it’s really going to cause havoc in Florida’s ecosystem right now?

Dusty Crum: Oh for sure. The black and white Tegu, the Argentine Tegu, eats every turtle and gator nest one after the other. Goes from nest to nest to nest, eats all the eggs. So that means there’s no more turtles hatching, there’s no more gators hatching. And it’s a big, big problem and people don’t realize it.

And they’re not [physically] threatening like the snakes…they can bite you or whatever, but it’s something that’s not going to kill you, so the media doesn’t make a big deal of it and it’s not sensationalized.

But behind the scenes, they’re robbing every [native species] nest that we’ve got right now and it’s bad.

Now we find the pythons and as I’m skinning some pythons, they’ve got eggs in their digestive tracts, they’re eating eggs out of nests. So not only they’re eating all the mammals, they’re eating eggs too.

M&C: There was a tremendous algae bloom that was man made in Florida that affected all the western beaches. The sludge and the algae that got into intercoastal waterways, did that affect any of the areas where you were hunting and working in?

Dusty Crum: Well we’ve got the little orchid shop down on Venice Beach here, me and my girlfriend. During the summer three months, we had to close the store because it was so bad. There was nobody out walking.

If you get outside, [the fumes] your eyes get all red and watery and you start coughing. So it’s really bad and it’s already back this year. There’s trace amounts, it’s coming back and it’s going to be another bad algae year.

They’ve got to stop spraying all those chemicals in the lake. They’re spraying all those chemicals and there’s just more and more problems.

M&C: I’m familiar with Florida and the topography, and I know a lot is out of balance. What can you do to help to fight the invasion?  What are some of the things that you hope that this show will bring to the forefront of people’s minds?

Dusty Crum: Absolutely. It goes back to this is the only Earth we have so let’s take care of it and let’s make the right choices. You can see the choices that man has made in the past and the repercussions of it.

When they drained the Everglades and tried to make all that into sugarcane land and put all the canals in it, that disrupted the historic water flow and that’s why we have problems that we’re having now. Now we’re trying to reverse all that. It’s just you’re never going to be able to fix it, you know?

Me, being in this position, I can go catch snakes and leave me alone. I’m fine with that. But I feel God or whatever put me in this position to spread this message.

And people are listening, so as many people are listening, I’m going to keep spreading the message and letting people know what’s going on in their Everglades and the repercussions of invasive species and let’s let people… I’m not only taking the snakes down there, I take snake bags full of garbage and stuff.

It’s like, come on, people! You bring this stuff in, bring it out. Let’s take care of this.

The future generations and the kids, we’re going to leave them a trash pile. That’s not right.  We’ve got to be stewards of the land, we’ve got to take care of the land.

M&C:  Do you have allies in political power in Florida? Have you ever spoken with anyone of councilmen or legislators in Florida? It’s an unusual state. I know it’s more of a red state but at the same time, the state’s also very concerned about the ecology because a lot of those people have seaside homes, you know, right?

Dusty Crum: Right, absolutely.

M&C: So they don’t want algae blooms and things like that. They want the things that make Florida unique and beautiful to stay true. Have you made any allies in politics there?

Dusty Crum: Well the mayor of Miami Beach is a friend of mine. I’ve taken him on a hunt and stuff before. And that’s about it. There was a congressman that came down and some other guys hunted with him. I wasn’t a part of that. I know that lawmakers are interested in …

See, the program that we’re in, they didn’t believe that we were going to be able to be successful. It was a six month trial period and when we produced the numbers that we did, the state could not turn their back on it.

They said, “Well look these guys are catching snakes, we’ve got to find money to keep funding this.” So now we’re getting permanent funding from the state next year to keep this thing going forever.

M&C:  Well if they’re funding this program then… you’re definitely caught their attention, and they’re [state officials] worried.

Dusty Crum: Well sure, it’s the numbers, the sheer numbers that we’re pulling in. It’s like the New York Yankees. You put a good team of hunters together with the good leadership, you win the world series, you know?

M&C: It sounds like this Argentinian Tegu lizard is almost more dangerous than the snakes. The snakes are dangerous of course but seems like from an ecological standpoint, they’re going to wreak more havoc. 

Dusty Crum: Yeah, they do, and it’s all the above really, it’s D, all the above. So it’s a combination of everything. The water quality, the sick alligators.

M&C: In closing, tell us about your dog, who is on many hunts…

Dusty Crum: Yeah, some of the hunts. She’s not allowed on certain lands, so I can only take her certain places. We’re not allowed to dog hunt in certain areas.

So she’s with me sometimes, sometimes she’s not. But she’s good and very effective at what she does. I use her on the islands a lot because they’re heavy thick brush and I’ll take her on the islands and if there’s a snake there that’s been there recently, she’ll find it. She’ll pick up the scent and she’ll go and she’ll bay it up. She doesn’t get close enough for it to bite her. She’ll run circles around it and just bark.

M&C: And who are some of the people that will be featured on the show with you? Can you tell me a little bit about them in closing?

Dusty Crum: Yeah, I’ve got my right-hand man, Jay Star. He’s just one of them guys that’s been around forever, and he’s one of them guys that you can take him in small doses or a little goes a long way with him. But he is a good dear friend of mine and he’s a character. But he’s got my back with anything. Jameson Star the third.

And then I got Gary Clark. And this guy, me and him used to work at a dairy farm and we were building barns and stuff like that. I met him a long, long time ago. Anyhow, I think it was right when he got out of prison, he come to work at the dairy and we started goofing around and we were catching hogs and stuff.

I started running camera and I was cameraman, I was thinking of making hog hunting videos and stuff. So he’s just been around but he’s one of them guys too. He’s real high strung. He’s got tons of energy which is good to help us but he’s just real high strung, he just wants to sit there and talk your ear off and like a mosquito buzzing in your ear all day.

M&C: Sounds like you have quite a crew.

Dusty Crum: Yep. Good team, it’s going to be fun. And make sure to check out pythonwildman.com. You could see my leather wallets and my products that I make and help spread the message to fight these invasive species.

Guardians of the Glades airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on Discovery Channel.

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