Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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Nile croc removed from park

EVERGLADES -- Wildlife officials have captured what was believed to be the last of three exotic Nile crocodiles loose in South Florida.

The 37-pound, 5-foot-6 reptile was caught March 9, in the Chekika area of east Everglades National Park. It was a juvenile, and thus too young to have bred, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson said.

The Nile, which is most commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa, is considered the most dangerous crocodile in the world. Its behavior differs sharply from the American crocodile, which is native to South Florida and almost never aggressive toward people.

This particular Nile was caught by a partnership of organizations that included Everglades National Park, the University of Florida, FWC and the Swamp Apes, a volunteer group that removes exotic species from the park. The Swamp Apes spotted the croc while conducting Burmese python surveys. It took several hours for the captors to corral the animal.

"With the Nile, we know that they are very aggressive with respect to humans," Everglades National Park Superintendant Dan Kimball said in an interview last Thursday. "This coordinated outcome was great for the park as well as our visitors."

Segelson said there's a good chance the crocodile is the one that wildlife officials first attempted to catch during the first half of 2012 in the canals around Homestead. But they lost track of it in late August of that year when heavy rain forced the South Florida Water Management District to open the dams that separate the canals from Biscayne Bay.

The crocodile is one of three that wildlife officials suspect either escaped or were released from a south Miami-Dade breeding facility in 2011. The facility, which the FWC won't name, has been under investigation since at least 2012.

Of the other two crocs, one was captured in late October 2011, records show. Segelson and Kimball said they believe the third crocodile has been caught as well, though they did not know specifics.

It is not illegal to import or breed Nile crocodiles in Florida as long as the breeder has the proper permits. However, it is illegal to release the crocodiles into the wild, or to improperly safeguard a captive crocodile facility.

Jorge Pino, a spokesman for FWC's Miami-Dade County law enforcement operations, said the investigation in the south Dade breeding farm continues.

"We are now currently trying to compare DNA from the crocodile that was captured this weekend to the stock of crocodiles located at the facility," he said last Thursday.

Due to worldwide population concerns, Nile crocodiles are protected under international treaty and cannot be euthanized without special permission, Everglades National Park spokeswoman Linda Friar said.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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