Crocodile invades Keys Navy base; captured, then goes to work for military trackers

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers tag and release a 9-foot, 3-inch American crocodile that found its way onto an access road at NAS Key West on Boca Chica.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers tag and release a 9-foot, 3-inch American crocodile that found its way onto an access road at NAS Key West on Boca Chica.

The U.S. Navy doesn't tolerate invaders on its Boca Chica airfield access roads — especially when the offender is a nine-foot, three-inch American crocodile.

According to Naval Air Station Key West spokeswoman Trice Denny, the croc was spotted by base security at dawn Monday near a commercial entrance gate on the base.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers were called to the scene, but the croc got off easy and was released into nearby waters after being tagged for tracking purposes.

"That's a big croc!" NAS Key West posted on its Facebook page Monday, along with a photo of FWC officers holding the animal down.

Crocs in the Keys used to be a rare sight. No longer.

But the once-endangered species' population has recovered in recent years and caused their Everglades National Park habitat to become overcrowded. That leads to a natural dispersal of the population, says FWC crocodile-response coordinator Lindsey Hord, and the Keys are a short swim away.

"These crocs are a reality in the Keys now," he said. "Removing a croc is not going to change anything; the best thing to do is figure out a way to coexist with them."

As recently as 30 years ago, the American crocodile population in Florida had shrunk to approximately 200 to 300 animals. It's around 2,000 now, Hord said.

The FWC generally advises leaving crocodiles alone, but does attempt to remove them upon request. American crocodiles generally aren't aggressive like alligators.

There have been numerous croc sightings in the Upper Keys for several years, but they typically hadn't been spotted south of Marathon. That's all changing, according to Hord.

"We've occasionally had them as far south as Key West," he said, adding a pair of crocodiles has been spotted on several occasions at Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park.

"This particular species occurs throughout the Caribbean, in Cuba, and the Bahamas," Hord said.

The FWC has had periodic reports of a croc at NAS Key West. Hord said officers only responded this time because the animal found its way onto the road.

"My guy responded and took him off the roadway and the folks on the base wanted him released there. They let it go right there off the road," he said.

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