Thrill Seeker, Critter Keeper, and a helping hand to man and beast alike
When it comes to critters – slithering, flying, or creeping around on all fours – no one knows them like Bob Cross of Magnolia Plantation in Lake Mary. The 78-year-old has been effectively removing unwanted wildlife from local properties for decades, mostly with his bare hands. He does it for a living these days, but really, Bob loves the chase (and the animals) too much to call it a job.
What some people don’t know about Bob is his penchant for all kinds of thrills, animal or otherwise.
From owning hundreds of snakes as a kid and fighting fires as an adult to chasing disasters with his news camera, the Central Florida mainstay is always looking for his next adventure.
Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Winter Park and Maitland, Bob’s first love was snakes after finding one while camping with the Cub Scouts.
“After that, my friend and I would walk through weedy marshes looking for and capturing snakes,” he recalls. “I was fearless as a child.”
After a while, he accrued more snakes than his bedroom could hold. The escape of a five-foot Eastern mud snake while his mom was hosting a card game ended Bob’s indoor snake-keeping. So, he built a snake pit in his backyard, eventually home to 180 slinking snakes.
When Bob entered his teens, he discovered a new thrill – firefighting.
“I started going to meetings at the firehouse when I was 16,” he says. After serving as a volunteer in Maitland, the City of Winter Park hired Bob full-time. Two years later, he took a firefighter position with the Orlando Fire Department (OFD), a job he held for the next 25 years.
Like many firefighters, Bob moonlighted to supplement his standard first-responder income. He took an interest in videography – and it turned out he was really good with a camera. He sold B-roll (background footage) and highlight reels to the major news networks and ESPN, covering everything from fires and hurricanes to sports and politics. After officially retiring from the OFD, Bob grew his video production company into a six-figure business. His love for chasing stories was the same thrill-seeker trait that led him to fight fires and amass serpents.
Through it all, though, Bob admits he never did outgrow collecting snakes.
“This was my hobby since I was a teenager,” he says. “I like the uniqueness of it. It is so different than what anybody else does.”
So, for 50 years, in the midst of firefighting and videography, Bob happily assisted homeowners, law enforcement, and anyone else who called with a snake or wildlife issue. It remained a hobby until only six years ago when Bob officially made it a business, figuring he might as well make a few bucks while he was having fun.
While Bob stops short of calling himself an animal whisperer, he certainly has a way with wildlife. Magnolia Plantation residents may remember Dolly, a deer that acted like Bob’s pet for years, even allowing people to pose for pictures. And the fact that he seldom wears gloves during a capture punctuates the oneness Bob feels with animals. Plus, he prefers the natural grip.
“I’ve been bit hundreds of times, mostly by snakes,” he admits with a nonchalant shrug.
Bob says the common black racer feels like a puncturing rosebush thorn, while a pygmy rattlesnake bite feels like several wasps stinging at once. He has been bit six times by opossums, three by raccoons.
“Raccoons tear the flesh,” Bob describes. “Opossums on the other hand are very gentle, more like dog bites. No ripping.”
Known throughout his life for his humanity toward the animals he encounters, Bob has also gained a reputation for removing injured animals and seeking any help they may need.
“It is not easy to quickly help an injured animal,” he explains. “There are only three veterinarians in Central Florida who will care for wild animals.”
Bob says most of his calls these days are for snakes in pools and birds in pool enclosures, but more four-legged critters are making themselves known.
Notes Bill Archer, president of the Heathrow Woods Homeowners’ Association, “Whether it’s a snake, a bobcat, coyote, or a bear, you call Bob.”
Bob’s Top 10 (mis)Adventures
1. Back in the 1980s, Bob got a call at 2:00 a.m. from the Pine Castle Police Department to help with a snake that was lying across the road. Bob arrived to find a 13-foot Burmese python weighing 130 pounds. Bob took the snake home and kept it as a pet for a year before selling it to another snake aficionado.
2. One of Bob’s other big catches was a 5-foot, 7-inch venomous cottonmouth snake in Lake Mary that had made its way into a screened pool enclosure. For reference, the world record for such a snake is 6 feet, 2 inches.
3. While handling a venomous pygmy rattlesnake one day, Bob needed his wife Cheryl to help transfer the critter from a bucket to a bag. A slight miscommunication allowed the snake to bite Bob’s finger. In true Bob fashion, he never sought medical care and was fine.
4. A barred owl somehow entered a pool enclosure in Seminole County and, for some reason, the homeowner waited all day to call Bob. When he arrived, the owl was lying on its side exhausted. The poor thing had flown around in circles for hours trying to get free. It was hardly a difficult catch. Bob says the owl was happy to see him.
5. Bob once got a call that a bear had broken into a garage and taken a bag of dog food. On arrival, he found the 500-pound bear finishing up his impromptu lunch and rolling on its back in the grass to nap. Bob recorded the whole affair on camera. After the slumber, the bear wandered back into the woods. The next day, the bear was trending worldwide and Bob was receiving press inquiries from all over the world.
6. An otter in Oviedo and its three babies had appetites that were too much for a local homeowners’ association. The family was eating all of the grass carp used to control aquatic vegetation. Cute as they are, otters are one of the most vicious critters in North America, sporting 50 sharp teeth, making them extremely difficult to capture. But Bob relocated the family successfully.
7. Recently, Bob caught 13 cottonmouth snakes in one Seminole County backyard in 30 days. It was such an anomaly, Animal Planet flew Bob to Dallas for a three-hour interview about the encounter.
8. In Heathrow Woods, a coyote was caught in a wire snare. Bob used a pole for capture, taped the coyote’s mouth and legs, put it in a cage and brought it home. To Bob’s astonishment, when he opened the cage and removed the tape, the coyote was passive, allowing Bob to hold its body like a big dog. Bob says the coyote became a TV star, garnering five news stories.
9. From Lake Emma Road, a call came in claiming coyotes were taking birds from a chicken farm. When Bob arrived, he found no coyotes, but four bobcats, which he captured. Apparently, bobcats like chicken, too.
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10. One rainy day, Bob received a call from Seminole County that a pond at a golf course had flooded across a street leaving behind about 15 snakes slithering in the roadway. Turns out they were really just flopping. They were legendary giant one-to-two-foot salamanders.