The crocs may very well become victims of their resurgence. The Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission has received dozens of complaints about them. (There are roughly 15,000 alligator complaints in Florida every year.) A woman on the Miami River who feeds ducks protested when a croc arrived and began eating the birds. Crocs have even been spotted at Bayfront Park.
Todd Hardwick, who owns a pest-control outfit called Pesky Critters, warns that problems await if a management plan is not developed soon. "These are cold-blooded reptiles and people do stupid things," he says. He believes the crocs will lose their fear as they are exposed to humans, with disastrous consequences.
The parks department decided to take action after an incident at Black Point Marina, just a few miles north of Turkey Point. A crocodile that favored the marina's lagoon became unnaturally fat feasting on discarded fish carcasses that had been tossed into the water. His length was estimated at nine feet. Fishermen claimed the reptile tried to climb into boats and disturbed blue-crab traps.
In February 1998 the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission made the unusual decision to move the croc because of its size, aggressiveness, and agility. Workers delivered the reptile to Metrozoo, where employees attempted for 40 days to make the animal forget about the marina. Park officials then released the croc into the C-111 canal that leads from the Everglades to Florida Bay. Within five months the croc returned to its former home.
This past February a community activist was walking her dog at Black Point when a fisherman warned her to be careful: Pet-and-child-eating crocodiles lurked in the water. The woman complained and the parks department took action. This time the croc earned a trip to a Collier County park. It has yet to return.
Hammer also created signs for marinas and coastal areas warning people about the crocs. The yellow metal placards show a picture of the reptile and read "Caution Crocodiles In Area" in both English and Spanish. They also admonish the public it is illegal to feed or harass the animals. "[The crocodiles] lose their fear," Hammer says. The maximum penalty for messing with a croc is a $250,000 fine and one year in federal prison. Hammer has posted about 35 signs in locations including Black Point, Matheson Hammock, Greynolds, and Haulover parks. The county parks department plans to install a total of 65. Hammer has also written a brochure that will soon be distributed to park visitors.
Ultimately naturalists hope South Floridians will embrace the crocodile rather than fear it. "How many people have seen an American crocodile in the wild?" Hammer asks. "That to me would be a nature experience to get excited about. If you want to see one, you have to come to South Florida. We have them and nobody else does."