For some residents living near Florida waterways, dealing with unwelcome neighbors isn’t always as easy as inviting them to a BBQ and making nice—unless you’re serving lots of wild, raw fish and birds.
Dealing with alligators has been commonplace for most southeastern-dwelling Americans. But Florida residents may have to make way for another big (but lighter-in-color), scaly, green reptile: the American crocodile, whose population numbers have surged in recent years.
Unlike the sensitive Leatherback turtle or the West Virginia flying squirrel, the American crocodiles, which have been federally listed as endangered since 1975, are actually seeing an increase in population numbers, according to the AP.
In the species’ only U.S. habitat in the southern tip of Florida, crocs are now approaching the 2,000 mark. Biologists cite better-developed plans over the years in the reptile’s habitat protection and rising water temperatures as two main causes.
Prof. Frank Mazzotti, who has studied crocs for many years at the University of Florida, calls the rising numbers a real “endangered-species success story.”
There are currently more crocs now than at any point in this century, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had reduced the reptile’s status to threatened. Lindsey Hord, a biologist for the U.S.F.W.S., commented on the rise of the American croc:
“Were seeing crocs in places they haven’t been seen in decades,” she said.
With their million-plus alligator population, the same long-standing gator worries that plague Floridians—big carnivores invading property, eating pets, and occasionally attacking people—now apply to the American crocodile. Florida is the only place on Earth where crocs and gators co-exist.
According to the AP article though, there has never been a documented American-crocodile-on-human attack in the U.S. The crocs typically prefer to feed on your domesticated pets instead.
"Crocodiles don't see much distinction between some small mammal that they have naturally eaten, like a rabbit, and somebody's dog," Hord said.
Floridians still planning on having a backyard BBQ near bodies of water should probably lock up Fluffy or Fido, as experts note that American crocodile numbers are expected to only keep increasing.
Most experts consider precautions to be part of plain common sense: Don’t swim in croc-dwelling waters, and keep your pets and children away from the water’s edge.
Make Way, Gators: Croc Numbers Surge in South Fla. - Brian Skoloff, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4-7-09.