The hope, he wrote, was to bag it before Hurricane Isaac, when water managers were scheduled to open flood gates that could flush the animal from a canal near Krome and Southwest 280th Street and allow it to escape, possibly into Biscayne Bay. Federal wildlife managers signed off on the so-called “lethal take” the next day but the croc hasn’t been seen since.
Carli Segelson, an FWC spokeswoman, downplayed concerns over a single problematic croc, one too small to pose much of a threat to people for several more years.
“We don’t even know if this animal is still out there,” she said. “This particular crocodile is a juvenile. It’s not yet of breeding age.’’
Segelson said FWC officers are still investigating where the crocs have come from but letters between the wildlife agencies point to an escape from an unnamed captive breeding facility.
It’s illegal to own or breed Nile crocs without a state-issued Class 1 wildlife permit, which sets enclosure, safety and other standards for people who want to keep lions, Komodo dragons and other wildlife that “pose a significant danger to people.’’
According to FWC records, the closest licensed facility to the Redland park is operated by Jose Novo, who said he has safely raised gators and crocs for years.
Novo, who manages Everglades Safari Park, a tourist attraction on Tamiami Trail, acknowledged a visit from FWC officers but said his property met all fencing and other requirements. He said he was not issued a violation notice but was asked to install mesh along the fence bottom as a precaution against hatchlings crawling through chain-link openings.
Novo, who said he has one of the largest private collections of crocodilians in the U.S. and once hoped to open a park called Predator World to educate the public, insists he’s had no escapes and always collects eggs before they hatch.
4 feet long, ‘pretty darned feisty’
“I have probably the safest facility around,” he said. Novo believes the crocs might have been released by unlicensed owners who illegally obtained eggs or hatchlings.
Chris Rollins, manager of the Fruit & Spice Park , initially figured the reptile was a small American croc or a spectacled Caiman, a smaller South American species imported for the pet trade that also has become established in South Miami-Dade. But as it fattened up, growing to four feet, Rollins said it became more threatening so he called Wasilewski to remove it. Wasilewski, who has a Class 1 permit, added the small croc to his own collection.“It was already pretty darned feisty,’’ Rollins said. “Normally, a gator or crocodile that size would disappear if you got near it. This one was really a little more snappish and aggressive.’’
According to a database of invasive species sightings maintained since 1991 by the United States Geological Survey, Wasilewski’s catch was the first Nile croc found in Florida and second in the United States. The only other reported sightings came in 1998 when Hurricane Georges flooded an alligator farm in Mississippi, allowing five Nile crocs to escape. All were reported quickly recaptured.
Wildlife managers, however, admit records are sketchy. Segelson said the FWC wasn’t aware of any previous Nile releases but staff members would have to go through old, hand-written notes to be certain.