Friday, August 17, 2018

Nile croc on the loose near Miami

HOMESTEAD — State wildlife officials have given their agents a rare order to shoot to kill in the hunt for a young and potentially dangerous Nile crocodile loose near Miami.

The Nile crocodile, which hails from Africa, can jump higher, run faster and grow to nearly 20-feet, several feet larger than its American cousin, and has a nastier temperament. And while the American crocodile stays near saltwater like mangroves and estuaries, the Nile crocodile prefers freshwater, making it more likely to come in contact with humans and domestic animals.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said they know of only one Nile croc on the loose, but experts said at least two others have been caught in the same area. The commission is investigating where the croc came from, although it likely escaped from a facility or a local breeder, probably as a hatchling.

"They get big. They're vicious. The animals are just more aggressive and they learn that humans are easy targets," said Joe Wasilewski, a reptile expert and veteran wrangler. The American croc "is a gentle animal, believe it or not. That's their nature. They're more fish eaters. They don't consider humans a prey source."

But the Nile croc currently at large is only a little over 3 feet long, not dangerous yet. Still, federal wildlife officials have dispatched a team to kill the animal before it becomes a problem. Wildlife officials have tried to capture it with a noose or harpoon, but now realize their only chance to kill it will likely be with a rifle, said FWC nonnative wildlife biologist Jenny Eckles. Only FWC agents are authorized to kill it. If it is caught alive, it will be euthanized.

It's a proactive step in a state plagued by exotic non-native species like the Burmese python, which has overrun the Everglades and upset the delicate ecosystem. Florida has more invasive amphibians and reptiles than anywhere else in the world, and the pet trade is the No. 1 cause, according to a University of Florida study.

No experts believe the Nile crocodile is the next Burmese python, but the python population, which some experts say has grown too big to eliminate, has made them cautious.

"If we don't want to have another Burmese python problem the term is 'early detection and rapid response' and that's what we're doing here," said Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida professor of wildlife ecology.

His team has spent more than 1,000 hours and endless nights searching by boats and on foot in the canal where the croc was last seen, hoping to spot the red light reflection of its eyes. But Mazzotti said someone captured the reptile in March and let it loose, so the animal is now wary of humans.

Wildlife officials approved killing the crocodile about the same time Hurricane Isaac skirted the state in August. The storm probably sent the crocodile into hiding and it hasn't been spotted since, Mazzotti said.

"We've only had a few instances where these have escaped into the wild. So it would be unlikely they could get established, but we still don't want to have them in our ecosystem," said Eckles.

With reality TV shows glorifying reptile hunting and wrestling, anyone with a penchant for adventure could take the ruling as a license to kill and perhaps mistake the animals.

"They're going to shoot any crocodile or alligator. It will be the Wild West," Wasilewski said.

He sneaked up on and caught a sunbathing Nile croc about six months ago at a park not far from the canal where the other Nile croc was last seen. Wasilewski keeps the roughly 3-foot reptile in a concrete pen with a pool in his yard. He travels the globe lecturing and wrangling reptiles and has a permit to keep them.

Comments
Watch: McGlockton on losing a son and the ‘injustice’ of stand your ground

Watch: McGlockton on losing a son and the ‘injustice’ of stand your ground

It needs to go.That’s how Michael McGlockton feels about Florida’s stand your ground law. McGlockton’s 28-year-old son, Markeis McGlockton, was shot and killed outside a convenience store near Clearwater on July 29. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualti...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Ronda Storms falling short in contributions but insists she has a chance against Joe Wicker

Ronda Storms falling short in contributions but insists she has a chance against Joe Wicker

The Republican primary for the 59th state House seat pits a political figure with high name recognition against a business owner who's winning the race for money and endorsements.Joe Wicker, 40, is an Army veteran who owns a home health-care business...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Why you should care about FSU-Samford: This ‘DuckTales’ parody song

Why you should care about FSU-Samford: This ‘DuckTales’ parody song

When Samford Hall of Famer Jimbo Fisher left Florida State for Texas A&M, we all needed a reason to care about the Division I-AA Bulldogs' Week 2 trip to Tallahassee.The internet, as usual, has come through with a video that needs a little context.Sa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Nearly 800,000 ballots have been cast; early voting set to go statewide

Nearly 800,000 ballots have been cast; early voting set to go statewide

Nearly 800,000 ballots had been cast by Friday morning, 11 days before a closed primary election when both parties will nominate candidates for governor and other state and local offices.The Division of Elections reports that 785,400 voters had cast ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Greek bailout ends, but Europe's debt problem goes on

Greek bailout ends, but Europe's debt problem goes on

Greece's bailout program is coming to an end Monday after eight years of enforced austerity, but the milestone offers little assurance that the troubled euro currency union is leaving behind its problems.
Updated: 1 hour ago
An election supervisor gives Bill Nelson ‘a fit’ over his Russian claims

An election supervisor gives Bill Nelson ‘a fit’ over his Russian claims

When U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made a campaign stop in Madison this week, Tommy Hardee asked for a face-to-face meeting — to "eat his lunch.""I was trying to give him as much of a fit as I could," Hardee said.Hardee is the supervisor of elections f...
Updated: 1 hour ago

AP Top News at 8:37 a.m. EDT

AP Top News at 8:37 a.m. EDT
Updated: 1 hour ago
Get ready for a hot and sunny weekend across Tampa

Get ready for a hot and sunny weekend across Tampa

The ridge of high pressure bringing drier air across Florida and the Gulf of Mexico will hold through the weekend, allowing for hot and dry conditions with low chances of rain, according to the National Weather Service.A dry Friday morning will see t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Next mission for women with military service: Run for office

Next mission for women with military service: Run for office

Women who have served in the United States armed forces are a major part of the record number of female candidates who are seeking public office this year
Updated: 1 hour ago

Knives and guns: Serb-Russian youth camp closed after outcry

Police have closed a summer youth camp on a mountain in western Serbia organized by Russian and Serbian far-right groups after a public outcry
Updated: 1 hour ago