Bob Freer, owner of Everglades Outpost, a wildlife sanctuary and attraction in Homestead, said the official list is missing a Nile he caught three year earlier about a quarter-mile from the Fruit & Spice Park. He said he reported the animal, which he keeps penned up as part of the Nile crocodile exhibit at the Everglades Alligator Farm attraction in Florida City, to a now-retired FWC officer. But the capture does not show up in federal or state databases.
Nor did a Nile croc nicknamed Houdini, a former escapee from the Billie Swamp Safari on the Seminole Tribe’s Big Cypress reservation near Clewiston.
‘Swamp Men’ and the elusive Houdini
In a 2010 episode of the Nat Geo Wild reality series Swamp Men based there, the staff recaptured the nine-footer, which the show claimed had lived in the Big Cypress swamp for years. Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said Houdini had indeed lived in the wild for nearly a decade but never strayed far. Houdini, along with other Nile crocs once on display at the attraction, have since been relocated to facilities off the reservation, he said.
Freer, who has caught an array of exotic reptiles in South Miami-Dade, believes the state’s caging standards for croc breeders aren’t strong enough — particularly for hatchlings.
“They don’t need the mother to survive,” he said.
Mazzotti, the UF crocodile expert, agrees sub-tropical South Florida offers young crocs the same sort of climate and habitat that has nurtured Burmese pythons and so many other exotics.
“Nile crocodiles live at the same latitude in Africa that alligators do here, so watch out if they get established,” he said.
Though the Nile croc may have fled the canal it once occupied, Mazzotti believes there is a good chance it is still alive.
For now, scientists see little risk of Niles colonizing the Everglades. It took decades of periodic releases by pet owners and escapes from breeders to establish a breeding python population. There just aren’t enough Niles to make a go of it, said Williams of the FWS.
Even if a few remain loose and undetected, “the chance of them actually finding each other and breeding is incredibly low,” he said.
Though some species have been cross-bred, experts said differences between the Nile and American also make hybrid offspring highly unlikely.
Mazzotti said teams have spent well over 1,000 hours in weekly searches for the canal croc since the kill permit was issued in August.
“This is when we should take action with invasive species,’’ he said. “We shouldn’t wait until they’re out there in big numbers and breeding.”
Canoeist: This is not a good thing
For people like Roger Hammer, a Redland resident who spends many of his off-hours canoeing and fishing in the Everglades, even one Nile is too many. Hammer, a longtime Miami-Dade parks naturalist, has helped Wasilewski on several hunts for the Nile croc. He’s had a few too-close encounters with American crocs in the Glades, he said, including a massive one that shot from a bank in fear so swiftly it rocked his canoe.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Thank God, that wasn’t a Nile croc,’ ” he said. “You’ve got at least one Nile croc out there in a canal that leads to the Everglades. As a canoeist, I’m certainly more than a little concerned.’’