Wanted: Florida Keys crocodile ‘response agents’

06/11/2012 5:00 AM

06/11/2012 12:10 PM

A new part-time job in the Florida Keys offers the chance to wrangle a toothy reptile that can grow to 15 feet and weigh a ton.

"Experience handling crocodilians preferred," says the notice from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — but the agency will train.

An increase in sightings of the threatened American crocodile in the Keys — and the killing of a dog by a crocodile in a Key Largo canal — prompted the state to seek a handful of authorized "crocodile-response agents" locally.

"Since few people have extensive experience with alligators or crocodiles, that's not a prerequisite," said Lindsey Hord, the FWC biologist in charge of dealing with South Florida's nuisance alligators and crocodiles. "We can train them. If somebody with a lot of experience comes in, that would be a plus."

Capturing the usually shy crocodiles, protected by state and federal law, is a last resort.

Much of the job entails checking complaints and seeking alternatives to physically moving a native and relatively rare species. There's also the occasional carcass recovery.

Response agents are listed as part-time state employees with the job paying $25 per hour on an as-needed basis. Having access to a boat and truck would be helpful, but the hourly rate covers all expenses, Hord said.

"This is not meant to be something to do as a living," he said. "It's more for somebody who understands the big picture and wants to help out."

One state-authorized response agent lives in the Lower Keys, and Hord would like to add two or three more for Middle and Upper Keys incidents.

"These people will represent our agency so it's very important for them to have the right kind of attitude for dealing with the public," Hord said. A clean criminal record is required.

A crocodile killed a family dog named Roxie in March on the bayside of the Adams Waterway in Key Largo. Hord was in the Keys this week trying to capture the 10-foot croc but it slipped away.

"There may be a little spike of concern about crocodiles right now, and we want to be responsive to that," he said. "However, an awful lot of people appreciate crocodiles or are not bothered by them."

On a call, a response agent will be charged with assessing the situation to see if steps short of capture can alleviate problems. "It may be as simple as putting up a little fence across the yard or boat ramp," Hord said.

The crocodile in the Key Largo dog attack almost certainly was attracted by the widespread practice of anglers tossing filleted fish into Florida Bay, Hord said.

"You see a lot of fish-cleaning stations along the canals there and almost never see a garbage can next to them," Hord said.

"The fish wind up in the water, and that brings crocodiles because there's plenty to eat," he said. "They become habituated."

While cable-television channels have at least two regular series that profile alligator hunters or removal teams, a state-hired croc responder cannot pitch a Keys-based series.

"You won't see our people doing that," Hord said.

For information on the positions, send an e-mail to Melanie.Brown@myfwc.com. List "crocodile response agent" in the subject line.

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