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Nile Crocodile Found in Florida: Is World’s Largest Crocodile a Resident?

Nile Crocodile

Uploaded to Wikipedia commons by Tim Muttoo

Yet another Floridian reptile drama has made headlines.  Earlier this month (March, 2014) officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FFW) reported that a Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) had been captured in the northwestern Everglades.  Although the origin of this particular animal may be known, it is not the first Nile Crocodile to have been captured in the state, which is now home to an astonishing 500+ species of non-native animals (and a great many plants)!  And while Nile Crocodiles are a rarity in Florida, the possibility of hybridization with the native American Crocodile (C. acutus) may be a concern.  In the course of my work in zoos and via contacts with commercial croc farming projects, I’ve seen many examples of hybrid crocodiles.  I cared for a Cuban Crocodile x American Crocodile cross, and Siamese Crocodiles are regularly interbred with others on farms.  Hybrid crocs were even openly offered for sale as “pets” back in the “Wild West” days of the pet trade (and perhaps still are?).

 

Nile Crocodile Origins

The recently-captured Nile Crocodile measured 5 ½ feet in length and weighed 37 pounds – too small to have reached sexual maturity (another, also an escaped exhibit animal, measured 9 feet in length when re-captured). It is believed to be the same individual that has been sighted several times over past 2 years.  FFW officials are looking into the possibility that this animal escaped from a Miami facility just before the sightings began.  If genetic evidence confirms

Ameriocan Crocodile

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mattstone911

this, the owners could be subject to a fine and/or imprisonment under Florida law.

 

Crocodiles and the Leather Trade

There has been speculation that live crocodiles imported to the USA for use in the skin trade may be another source of escapees.  However, all operations that utilize Nile Crocodiles are, according to the IUCN’s latest report, located in Africa (please see article linked below).

 

Nile Crocodiles are second only to American Alligators in terms of the number of skins sold each year.  The IUCN reports that between 2006 -2008, 1.5 million crocodile, alligator and caiman skins were legally traded.  Thirty countries and 13 crocodilian species were involved.  The global economic downturn has suppressed demand since that time.

 

Financial Concerns

Florida has the dubious honor of hosting more non-native invertebrates, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals than anywhere else on earth.  An astonishing 500+ exotic species have been observed, and many if not most have established breeding populations.  Last year, the federal and Florida state governments spent 80 million dollars in eradication attempts.  Threats to agriculture and habitats posed by introduced plants are also significant.

 

Other costs are involved as well – over the past decade, for example, 100 million dollars has been spent on re-establishing the endangered Wood Stork.  Nile Crocodiles and Burmese and African Rock Pythons are capable of preying upon Wood Storks, and other species could impact these endangered birds in ways that have not yet been identified.

 

Mexican Spinytail Iguana

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by John J. Mosesso, NBII

Notable Exotics: Reptiles and Mammals

Many of Florida’s introduced reptiles are very well-known, even to those without much interest in animals.  In some areas, Green Iguana populations are denser than in natural habitats…denser, in fact, than populations of any other lizard, anywhere on earth (please see article below for an interesting study on iguana-raccoon interactions)!  Brown Anoles seem to have replaced the native Green Anole in many areas, and 6-8 other anole species are established as well.  And, of course, one cannot escape news of introduced Burmese and African Rock Pythons and Boa Constrictors.

 

Less well-known is the fact that Spectacled Caimans (Caiman crocodylus) have been breeding in Florida since the 1960’s, which was their heyday in the pet trade.  Other surprising transplants include Javan File Snakes (Acrochordus javanicus), Texas Horned Lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum), Mexican and Black Spinytail Iguanas (Ctenosaura pectinata and similis) and Indochinese Tree Agamas (Calotes mystaceus).  There are many others…please post below if you wish a complete list.

 

I’m surprised that, with the exception of Armadillos and Nutrias, Florida’s introduced mammals do not seem to generate much interest.  The list really is quite amazing, and includes such large and unusual creatures as Asian Sambar Deer, American Elk, Jamaican Fruit Bats, Capybara, Mexican Red-Bellied Squirrels and Rhesus, Squirrel and Vervet Monkeys.  Please post below for more info, and see the linked article on Florida’s many feral parrots.

Sambar Deer

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by N. A. Naseer

 

Extermination efforts have rarely been successful, regardless of the species involved.  In fact, the FFW has given indications that the Burmese Python campaign may shift from “eliminate” to “control” mode.  I’ll post updates as they become available.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Raccoons and Iguanas in Florida – an Interesting Dilemma

 

Florida’s Introduced Parrots

 

Commercial Crocodile Farming (IUCN report)

Working with the False Gharial – One of the World’s Largest Crocodiles

False GharialHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  I find it difficult to express just how fortunate I’ve been in having had the chance to work with 12 Crocodilian species in the wild and captivity.  Breeding Dwarf Caimans, wrestling Orinoco Crocodiles into boats, getting up close and personal to Gomek (a giant, now famous Salt Water Croc), rearing Indian Gharials…these and many other experiences remain etched in my memory.  One species in particular cemented my interest in the group, and remains as much a mystery today as it was when I first saw it some 40 years ago – the massive False Gharial, Tomistoma schlegelii.

A Mysterious Giant

The False Gharial, which may exceed 16 feet in length, is the least-studied of the large Crocodilians, and among the rarest.  It has been bred in captivity only 3 times in the last 60 years (once at the Bronx Zoo, prior to my tenure) and few US zoos exhibit them today; 28 reside in European zoos, while South America is home to 1 specimen.

A secretive nature keeps the False Gharial shrouded in mystery.  The few field studies that have been carried out (please see below) indicate that it has been exterminated from much of its range.  Read More »

Reptile and Amphibian Conservation in the USA – 2012 Update

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The global extinction crisis faced by amphibians has been much in the news in recent years, as have threats to sea turtles, Madagascar’s tortoises, Asia’s freshwater turtles and other long-suffering groups.  In the USA, a number of reptile and amphibian species are also in dire straits despite, in some cases, federal protection.  I hope this article inspires both hope and action in my many conservation-minded readers.

Unprecedented Agreement May Help 757 Species

Following a slew of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the Federal government has agreed to speedily consider protecting an additional 757 native species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The CDB employs an attorney who deals solely with amphibians and reptiles, and the agreement is said to be “airtight” and legally enforceable. 

This agreement is an important step, as the ESA is our most powerful wildlife law.  Indeed, ESA listings have proven vital to the continued survival of many species.  For example, a recent CBD study of 110 ESA-protected species showed that 90% of them were recovering “on time”, according to the goals set at the original listing…not bad, considering what is happening to rhinos and other “protected” species elsewhere! Read More »

Snake Hunting with Romulus Whitaker – Learning from the Master

Gharial and TurtleHello, Frank Indiviglio here. A life engrossed in herpetology has provided me with more adventures than I dared expect. From tagging Leatherback Turtles in St. Croix to heaving Green Anacondas from a Venezuelan swamp, I’ve been quite fortunate. But I’ve always known that natural wonders are also plentiful close at hand. In fact, one of my most exciting herping trips took place in a NYC suburb.

Note: I’d enjoy hearing about your own unforgettable (and “wish you could forget”!) herping experiences. Whether your tales involve garter snakes in the backyard or crocodile monitors in New Guinea, please write in so that I can share them with other readers, thanks.

Turtle Enthusiasts Gather at SUNY Purchase

In July of 1993, I attended an amazing, week-long international conference held in Westchester County, NY – The Conservation, Restoration and Management of Tortoises and Turtles. Hosted by the dedicated folks at the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society, this gathering of leading professionals and serious hobbyists has, in my experience, yet to be matched. The 500-page conference proceedings are an invaluable resource, and I highly recommend them to anyone with more than a passing interest in turtles and tortoises. You can order the proceedings, for the unbelievable price of $20, here. Read More »

Recently Captured One Ton Crocodile may be the Largest Reptile Ever Recorded

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. The Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, is the largest of the world’s reptiles. Until now, the record was held by a 21.1 foot-long male taken in 1974 along the Mary River in Australia’s Northern Territory. This month (September, 2011) an astonishing behemoth was captured alive in the southern Philippines…and it may be the biggest croc ever seen!

Awe-Inspiring Crocs

Stumpy Large Saltwater Crocodiles, or “Salties”, awe neophyte and veteran herpetologists equally when viewed up close. There is simply no way to prepare oneself for the grandeur of these other-worldly beasts. I had worked with hundreds of large crocs before meeting my first true monster – a 17-foot-long, 1,700 pound brute christened “Gomek” (please see article below). Accompanied by his keeper, I edged to within a few feet of the usually calm, nutria-eating giant, and I still lack the words to properly describe the experience.

Well, the individual just captured in the Philippines out-measures Gomek by quite a bit…please see the video below. He frequented the outskirts of a farming town in Bunawan Township, 515 miles southeast of Manila. Circumstances led residents to believe that the animal, whom they have named “Lolong”, may have been responsible for killing several people; domestic water buffaloes were also on his menu.

Catching a Legend

The giant destroyed 4 traps and eluded capture for 3 weeks; a stronger, re-built trap finally snared him. After several escapes from ropes that sought to restrain him (not an easy task, even with much smaller animals, I can assure you!) Lolong was pulled from the water…a feat that took the efforts of 90-100 people!

The new heavyweight contender is currently listed as being 21 feet long and weighing an amazing 2,370 pounds. The Mary River individual mentioned earlier measured at least 21 feet long (there is some uncertainty). I’m anxious to hear if 21 feet is a rough measurement…if so, we may have a new record.

Unfortunately, giant crocodiles and people do not mix, so this fellow cannot be released. An exhibit in a local ecotourism park is expected to be his new home.

Natural History

Saltwater Crocs occupy an enormous range that stretches from northern India southeast through China and Thailand to Australia. Ocean journeys of over 600 miles have been documented, and they sometimes wind up well beyond their normal haunts (i.e. Japan); some particularly seaworthy specimens even sport barnacles!

An Extinct Giant

Salties are not the largest crocs to have ever lived. Deinosuchus, a 29-foot-long crocodile that once roamed Florida, preyed upon dinosaurs! Please see this article.

Gomek’s Story

GomekGomek was captured on New Guinea’s Fly River and eventually found a home with Arthur Jones. Mr. Jones, best known for inventing Nautalis weight-lifting equipment, was quite the animal fancier. At one point he had scores of adult crocs and a herd of 20+ African Elephants on his land in Florida. Years in the zoo field and friendship with a protégé of his have favored me with a few peeks into his most unique life…but those are stories for another time. For now, please check out the Gomek article below.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting animal stories.

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

Further Reading

Saltwater Crocodile Natural History

Photos and a video of the giant captured this month here

My Visit with Gomek World’s Largest Captive Croc

Check out this video of a giant croc feeding –
feeding a giant croc

 

Crocodile images referenced from Wikipedia.

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