Chomp in the Swamp

Tracking South Florida's endangered crocodiles is a business best left to experts and maniacs

For at least 30 minutes we sit in the boat, in the rain, listening to the voices of Armageddon. When the rain, lightning, and thunder begin to move off to the southeast, a dim gray horizon line appears to the north. Mazzotti sits up and starts the engine, and Cherkiss yanks the pole from the sand and slides it into the boat. In another 30 minutes we pull into the dock at Key Largo.

"Did you guys get caught in that?" a young woman asks as we unload.
"Got a little of it," says Mazzotti.
Indeed, we got only a little of it. Winds gusting higher than 50 miles per hour passed through the Keys, overturning sailboats in Key Largo, uprooting trees in Big Pine Key. A special marine warning from the National Weather Service cautioned about "rough seas and deadly lightning." If safe harbor cannot be found, the statement advised, "stay below deck or keep a low profile and keep away from ungrounded metal objects. All should wear flotation devices."

"Endangered American crocodile?" the reporter cries to Mazzotti. "We could have been killed!"

"That was a case where the storms came together, and we just couldn't run," he replies. "I didn't see how to get away from it.

"Things like the weather are the greatest threat out here," he admits, "and it certainly gets my heartbeat going faster than anything else. It's thrilling when you're out there on a fifteen-foot skiff -- you are out there, experiencing what nature is putting out, and you're filled with sensation."

"Sensation?"
"We're safe now," the professor continues. "But the crocodile is still endangered.

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