There Goes the Neighborhood — Dog

An influx of crocodiles in the 'burbs is raising back yard fears

While gators may be lurking in city sewers, crocs are all about the 'burbs.

After three dead dogs (RIP Spotty, Luna, and Angel), Coral Gables resident Chris Marin is getting out of Dade.

"When we first moved in, I even put a swing on a tree here for my kids to plunge into the canal," Marin told the Associated Press.
Now, said Marin, his family can't even enjoy a little backyard fun.

"My kids won't even step out here."

Listed as a federally endangered species in 1975, the American crocodile has surged to numbers not seen in a century, thanks to habitat protection and the discovery of remote locations, like FPL's Turkey Point nuclear plant, that allow them room to breed.

Today, the croc population is about 2,000 at the southern tip of Florida.

Only problem is what would be their natural habitat is now occupied by stainless steel grills, swing sets, and, yes, dogs. American crocodiles have never made a documented attack on a human in the U.S. Here, it's domestic pets that more often become crocodile food.

"Crocodiles don't see much distinction between some small mammal that they have naturally eaten, like a rabbit, and somebody's dog," Lindsey Hord, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said.

Christine Esco, who lives down the street from Marin, has a crocodile in her backyard canal that's become so well known he's even got a name: Pancho.

Pancho has been caught several times, only to return. The next time he is caught, he'll go to a zoo.

"It's very unnerving and scary," Esco said. "I have two small children ... Pancho, in my opinion, is a time bomb."

Wildlife officials say residents simply need to take precautions: No swimming in crocodile waters between dusk and dawn, when they feed; supervise children near canals; and keep your pets well away from the water's edge.

American crocodiles are generally less aggressive than alligators, and "the truth is you're more likely to drown than be attacked by an alligator or a crocodile," said University of Florida professor Frank Mazzotti, who has studied crocodiles for more than 30 years. "That said, don't be stupid."

"The Endangered Species Act comes under a lot of attacks," Mazzotti said. "Here is just an absolutely stunning example of the fact that it works."

The crocodile's future here depends at least in part on people's willingness to adjust their behavior to live with the creature, Mazzotti said.

"Wildlife management," he said, "is really people management."


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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