In honor of Pancho — the 12-foot, 300-pound American crocodile who died after being captured in Coral Gables in August — dozens of mourners stood on a Crandon Park beach and tossed some ashes into the wind and waters.
But they weren’t Pancho’s ashes.
The particles that rose into the wind Wednesday night during a public “wake” for Pancho were actually the ashes of hundreds of dead sea critters that once lived in Biscayne Bay.
“Dearly beloved. We are here to celebrate the life of Pancho,” said ecologist activist and artist Xavier Cortada. “He was taken from us much too young and much too close.”
Wednesday night, Cortada, along with the Biscayne Nature Center, hosted the satirical service for the late crocodile. The service was followed by a reception at the Biscayne Nature Center at Crandon Park, which about two dozen scientists, college students and their professors attended.
They cried, rushed to get tissues and moaned Pancho’s name. Only one Gables by the Sea resident, Jan Falk, who knew about the theatrical plan, attended.
The date marked three months since the reptile’s death. The service included the unveiling of Pancho’s portrait — painted by Cortada — a speech by a local comedian, a eulogy and a ceremony in which some ashes were thrown from a green urn into the sea.
Cortada said his goal was to have a dynamic service to honor the fallen croc, but at the same time to bring ecological awareness to community members, and teach them how to coexist with nature.
Florida International University biology students said the death of a South Florida animal is not rare. They cited the manatee, the sawfish, the Key Largo mouse and the indigo snake.
“Why are we here lamenting Pancho when we have killed so many Panchos in the last 100 years?” Cortada said, adding that humans are at fault for the reptile’s death after invading his natural habitat. “I just wanted to cry real tears and have a real conversation about our reptilian friend. We love you, Pancho.”
Pancho was accused of biting two swimmers who jumped into the Gables by the Sea canal along Lugo Avenue about 2 a.m. Aug. 24. He died in the hands of animal trappers on shore after being captured. Pancho died fighting his capture against the trappers, authorities said, although a necropsy was not conducted.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino, Pancho was buried at an undisclosed location.
However last month, a leaked photo, credited to the FWC, showed three massive quarry limestone grave stones with Pancho’s name on it. Beneath his name it says: “A Legend.”
Lindsey Hord, the FWC biologist who worked on Pancho’s case, told the Miami Herald that photos of the memorial were not for public view and would not disclose its location or who paid for it.
The hunt for Pancho attracted the attention of half a dozen animal trappers from Miami-Dade, Monroe and Collier counties, becoming one of the largest searches that FWC has ever coordinated for a single reptile.
Some neighbors had a grudging admiration for Pancho because he had been relocated twice for eating more than four dogs. But he always found his way back.
“Pancho loved his community,” Cortada said. “Pancho loved his home. He always returned after spending the winter in the Lower Keys. That’s the Pancho I want us to remember. That is the friend we mourn for. That is the reason we have heavy hearts. Some of us have tears. The family’s hope is that these are not crocodile tears.”
But crocodile tears they were.
In the hope of getting the message through, Cortada had several friends in the audience act as mourners.
“No! Pancho!” a woman actress draped in black in the audience yelled. “Not my Pancho!”
She wiped her tears and continued to weep beneath her dark sunglasses.
During the service, a bright, vibrant portrait of Pancho — which took Cortada a month to paint — was unveiled. It appears to show Pancho being hurt by several spears or teeth.
After the unveiling, two dozen participants marched in song to the shoreline. They sang Shall We Meet at the River? by Robert Lowry.
The pursuit of Pancho divided Gables by the Sea neighbors.
The five-day search had some trying to sabotage his capture; others set up cameras on their decks to alert animal trappers if Pancho swam by.
Pancho was just one of several neighborhood characters. Residents told the Miami Herald in August that some of the regular crocodiles in the canal are known by name. The federally protected species are tagged when captured; many have color-coded tags or unique markings on their tails.
Snaggletooth and Streetwalker are two who shared the water with Pancho, who was the largest and the oldest.
Pancho’s two victims — Alejandro Jimenez, 26, of Doral and Lisset Rendon, 23, of Miami — had left a party in the 1300 block of Lugo Avenue about 2 a.m. to go for a dip in the canal behind the home. Both were bitten, but their injuries were not life-threatening. An FWC report said the incident was alcohol-related.
The American crocodile is usually shy and reclusive, experts say. Being bitten by an American crocodile is a rarity. Alligators, Hord said, are more likely to attack humans.
“I don’t know any crocodiles that have killed a human, but I know many humans that have killed a crocodile,” Cortada said. “So who has sharper teeth?”
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