A couple out for an early morning swim in a Coral Gables canal made history, of sorts, by becoming possibly the first humans to be bitten by an American crocodile in Florida.
The croc, apparently taking exception at having uninvited guests at such an ungodly hour took a bite — several bites, authorities said.
The couple, identified as Alejandro Jimenez, 26, of Doral and Lisset Rendon, 23, of Miami, were taken to South Miami Hospital where they were treated for the bites. Their injuries were not life-threatening. Rendon was released and Jimenez was still hospitalized Monday night.
The American crocodile, which is federally protected, is usually quiet and shies away from humans, said Jorge Pino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
Neighbors who live in the area, which is designated a crocodile sanctuary, say they can call some of the croc in the canal by name since trackers have placed microchips in their tails to keep up with them. Pancho, Snaggletooth and Streetwalker — who was caught twice crossing the street at around midnight — are a few of the regulars.
Late Monday, Todd Hardwick, an animal trapper with Pesky Critters, said he had captured a croc, thought to be Pancho, but it is back on the loose. It is not known whether Pancho was the one who bit the couple because their wounds were not serious enough for analysis.
Authorities were going to relocate the reptile to a reserve between Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
On Sunday, around 2 a.m., Jimenez and Rendon decided to slip out of a party at a home in the 1300 block of Lugo Avenue and go for a dip in the canal behind the home. They either missed or ignored signs dotting the neighborhood warning that it is a crocodile sanctuary.
Both were in the water when the eight- to nine-foot croc went into action, first biting Rendon, who managed to escape and swam to the dock, according to Pino. She was bitten in the back and shoulder area. Partygoers heard a commotion and ran out and dragged her away from the dock.
Then, Jimenez tried to make it to the dock, but the croc bit his hands and torso.
“We don’t know why these two individuals would be in a canal that’s known to have crocodiles at such hour,” Pino said. “We’ve never had one bite a human.”
Crocs are most active between dusk and dawn, Pino said. American crocodiles are federally protected and the 3,000 or so remaining are only found in Florida, Pino said.
The neighborhood is a crocodile sanctuary, with warning signs posted throughout, Pino said.
“The homeowner’s association is very progressive about letting people know [that],” he said.
Still, on Monday, Coral Gables police were going door to door, warnings neighborhood residents about the dangers of swimming in canals and handing out leaflets entitled “Living with Crocodiles.”
“We need to pass this out because crocodiles were here way before these houses were built,” said spokeswoman Kelly Denham.
Neighbor Melinda Wild, 45, who lives on the next block, says she’s extremely careful when walking her dogs, Ginger and Luna.
Pino said there have been many reports of dogs gone missing in Coral Gables, presumed to be snatched by crocodiles.
Wild makes sure she has her pets on a tight leash “because of the signs posted everywhere,” she said.
About the two people who were bitten, “I’d say jumping in the canal might have been a bit reckless. But on the other hand, you always see people paddleboarding.”