Wet Foot/Wet Foot

American crocodiles: We just want freedom to go back home

 News Bulletin: "A rarely seen nine-foot-long American crocodile cornered itself [sic] in the same North Miami Beach carport visited by an even larger alligator fifteen years before."

October 6, 2005, Miami Herald


Mark Poutenis

A male American crocodile continues to recover in a South Dade swamp, two weeks after he was lassoed, bound, blindfolded, dumped into the back of a dark green Dodge Ram four-by-four pickup, driven to the Atlantic FEC Fertilizer store in Homestead, weighed, probed, loaded back into the truck, then dropped into brackish water alongside a canal easement just east of the Eighteen Mile Stretch. What initially appeared to be an abduction is now considered yet another effort by a small commando unit of highly trained humans who claim they want to protect crocodiles and other members of the reptile community from harm by human extremists.

The crocodile, who insisted on anonymity, simply wants to put the incident behind him. "GHAGLROGHC! ROGHORNGLNEOG!" he noted.

The incident occurred two mornings after the last new moon by that huge wooded park — called Greynolds — that is next to those three little lakes in that area crocodiles just know how to find, no matter how long it takes. Before last week's ordeal, the victim, whom authorities identified as the Ives Dairy Crocodile, had spent the past three years in that vicinity because he just felt like it. He is believed to have survived mostly by eating Muscovy ducks. He had been heading for a lake just south of a house with a Cadillac and had stopped to rest in the shade of the driveway when he was discovered by a female human extremist, who quickly tipped off authorities. That is when the SWAT (Slamming Wild Alligator-type-animals onto a Truck) team sprang into action.

Human media reports in recent days have said the lead commando was an endangered white American human male, 42 years old, five feet seven inches long, and 150 pounds. Name tag: Todd Hardwick. Hardwick and his chief rival — FARC (Florida Alligator-type-animal Relocation Crew) leader Joe Wasilewski — remain at large. Hardwick has publicly announced he is tracking at least 35 other members of the crocodile community in the HOT (Human Occupied Territory).

For example, authorities have identified one in Kendall as the Miccosukee Golf Course Crocodile. "The American crocodile has made a tremendous comeback," Hardwick either warned or extolled, depending on one's place in the food chain.

Reports indicate Harwick feels remorse about this and other SWAT operations against the Crocodylus acutus community because he is convinced this segment of the animal kingdom is misunderstood and highly afraid of Homo sapiens. For one thing, there has never been a report of an unprovoked American crocodile attack on an American human. Their diet in the swamp consists mainly of fish and other small marine animals. They will attack human beings or other large mammals only if cornered. "He went into his instinctive death roll hoping to catch a piece of me," Hardwick recalled. "It has nothing to do with his death. It has to do with the death of his prey." The death roll, he added, involves a "very fast rolling action" and "a lot of hissing and snapping" and could have "wrecked" the Cadillac.

While Crocodylus acutus is "very stealthy," it is also "very shy," Hardwick observed. "They don't want to be seen." As for why they insist on crawling over suburban driveways and yards, he explained, "They just like to go back to where they were."

And "where they were" is not only where they have been but also where they are and wherever they decide to go in the future. Analysts say a majority of the crocodile community believes that the term repatriation, when referring to SWAT operations targeting American crocodiles, is a misnomer. Expatriation or deportation are more apt, they argue. While Hardwick's public stance is nonpartisan, he privately concedes that history tends to favor the crocodiles' position. "One hundred and twenty years ago there were crocodiles all over [the area that humans much later invaded and misnamed] North Miami Beach," he was quoted as saying. "They are venturing out into what was once their territory." In contrast, when fearful people in urban and suburban neighborhoods look at one, they see only a "cold-blooded, predatory reptile that might eat Fifi the poodle for lunch," he submitted. "It's gotten to the point where people are bitching and screaming in urban areas."

Unconfirmed rumors suggested that the operation also served to protect crocodiles from suicide attacks by pythons. One of the snakes, which are not native to the Everglades region, recently attempted to eat a six-foot-long alligator, killing both of them.

About noon on a recent Wednesday, the tree-lined street in which the SWAT operation went down was devoid of humans, the terror of the incident likely keeping them locked inside the mod Fifties-era one-story homes in this former tract of subtropical wetland. Strangely, just one block north, human residents seemed oblivious to not only this past crocodile incursion but all previous ones. A lean and shiny female human with gray sweat pants, a blue tank top, silky brown hair, and soft-looking skin was near the street trimming four-foot-long palm fronds from the tall vegetation barrier that separated a nice clay tennis court and a pack of at least four barking Weimaraners from the outside world. Any members of reptile sleeper cells in the vicinity would have overheard her reluctantly telling a male human news reporter that she had never even heard of an alligator being in the neighborhood, much less a crocodile. Racoons, yes. "And lots of possums," she confirmed.

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