HOMESTEAD, Fla. – 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 three 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.