After awhile crocodile…
Well, hello, my 1,000-pound, four-footed, reptile friend, been here long? Actually, yes. Last week, a rather pot-bellied 7-foot American saltwater crocodile found itself newsworthy on Stock Island, but is this unusual? Not really. Residents of the Keys have been living with crocodiles, whether knowingly or not, since the ’70s. “Florida Keys Crocodiles” even have their own Facebook page (1,200 followers) which shows sightings more like a yearbook page than a warning. While the shy crocodile appears menacing, really it’s just another layer to the unusual Keys’ animal collection. And, a little perspective: As of late, infected mosquitos have caused more harm in South Florida and around the world.
The American crocodile is on the endangered species list, allowing its population to swell from 200 in the ’70s to now more than 2,000 in South Florida. Aside from cars on U.S.1, the crocodile doesn’t have a lot of predators in the Keys (one was run over in March in Key Largo). In fact, old crocodile Cleatus, who spent 14 glorious years at Fort Jefferson with a clean record, was up and moved by human intervention. The jury is out on whether that was the right call since Cleatus never harmed anyone. Was he wrong for enjoying a free ham Sammy from visiting tourists acting like vending machines? Maybe yes, maybe no. But humans were certainly in wrong: do not feed the crocodiles; it’s illegal, with good reason.
“Swimming in the water or basking on the shore is normal biological behavior for a crocodile. It doesn’t indicate that the crocodile is aggressive or has lost its natural fear of people,” writes biologist Amanda West of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The commission will only remove a croc if there is an “imminent threat” and generally if the animal is more than 9 feet long. Moving them isn’t always the best option; it stresses them out and if they can, they will return to their original home.
“I would say we get a handful of calls each year, maybe two to three, mostly in the Upper Keys,” said Becky Herrin from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, who refers all calls to the commission. The sheriff’s office has used social media to show off a croc or two. Remember the one swimming in the pool in Lower Matecumbe, January 2016? He all but sipped on a frozen margarita, he was so comfortable. But then the cautionary tale dates back to March 2011 when two kayakers claimed to have been upturned, scratched and one bitten by a croc in Key Largo.
The TWC has handy brochures about living with crocs with a few golden rules:
- Always keep pets on a leash when around water and instruct family members to stay 10 feet from the water’s edge or a minimum of 3 feet above the water (if on a dock).
- If recreating in the water, only do so during daylight hours. Do not swim or stand in the water between dusk and dawn, as this is when alligators and crocodiles normally hunt.
- Don’t throw fish scraps or other food (bird food or fish food) in the water. This will teach the crocodiles that your area is a source of free food and they will frequent your area more often.
Contact the Alligator Management Program via the FWC’s Statewide Nuisance Alligator Hotline 1-866-FWC-GATOR [866-392-4286] or email SNAP@MyFWC.com.
Something to please keep in mind is that if left alone, American crocodiles pose very little threat to the public.” – Amanda West, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission