Police and licensed trappers capture a rare American crocodile Jan. 5 on the Little Club Golf Course
in Gulf Stream. This same crocodile also may have been spotted along the Intracoastal Waterway
from Boca Raton to Lake Worth. It was transferred to Miami-Dade County. Trappers
(from left) Will Gilmartin, Richard Cochran, Gulf Stream Police investigator John Passeggiata
(with flashlight) and trapper Bill Gilmartin.
Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
The 8-foot, 6-inch croc, seen relaxing along this pond at the Little Club in Gulf Stream,
appeared to be well-fed. Since the club is just a block away from Gulf Stream School,
the reptile was captured and moved to Miami-Dade County.
Neighbors watch the action.
By Cheryl Blackerby
The female crocodile made her way north from Key Largo, where she had already been trapped twice in the same swimming pool, to a small pond on the Little Club Golf Course in Gulf Stream.
Along the way, she was spotted at Lighthouse Point, near Two Georges Waterfront Restaurant in Boynton Beach and at the spillway in Lake Worth Lagoon. Her journey ended Jan. 5 when she was captured at the Little Club.
Most everyone thought she was an alligator, which are common in south Florida. Crocodile sightings in Palm Beach County, however, are few and far between.
“The crocodile population is recovering and we’re seeing crocodiles where we haven’t seen them in decades, but they’re still quite rare,” said Lindsey Hord, biologist and crocodile response coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Several decades ago we had 200 to 300 in the state and they were on the endangered list. Now we have about 2,000 non-hatchlings (over a year old),” he said. The number is far less than the 1.3 million alligators in the state. Florida crocodiles are now classified as threatened.
Most of the crocodiles are in or near the Everglades National Park, but they’re moving into their historic range, which, a few decades ago, reached up to Lake Worth Lagoon.
The number of Florida crocodiles has been increasing because the nesting population slowly is increasing, both in number and nesting range, according to FWC. And protection of the remaining crocodile habitat in Florida, and the enhancement of Everglades’ ecosystems is ensuring their survival.
Hord is happy to see the comeback and believes they can coexist with people. Shy and reclusive, the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) lives in brackish and saltwater areas, particularly around Florida Bay.
A crocodile has never bitten anyone in Florida (there aren’t any reports), but Hord reminds people to keep pets away from canals, lakes and Intracoastal lagoons. Crocodiles are not trapped unless they are on private property and someone asks that they be removed, or if they appear to be a threat because of their size.
The crocodile found at the Little Club is familiar to FWC officials. Her official moniker is Blue 8 — the color of her tag and her number designated by FWC when she was first tagged in Key Largo.
She is about 8 years old, 8 feet, 6 inches long, and 178 pounds. She appeared healthy and well-fed. Crocodiles grow faster than alligators, about a foot a year. The state record for a female crocodile is 12 feet, said Hord.
Found her way to Gulf Stream
The crocodile stretched out in the sun on the bank of a Little Club pond, attracting a crowd of golfers. General Manager Colin Cage was alerted and asked the FWC to remove the crocodile because of the children who attend Gulf Stream School, just 500 yards away, and the pets belonging to neighboring residents. Cage is from South Africa, where he had seen plenty of crocodiles, but never one in Florida. “It was napping, enjoying the view and the amenities,” he joked. “Maybe we should put up signs that say, ‘No crocodiles permitted beyond this point.”
The Gulf Stream police were called, and FWC sent a trapper but one who was qualified to trap alligators, not crocodiles. A crocodile trapper from Broward was called in, and after four or five hours Blue 8 was finally on a truck, tied and taped up.
Later that night, she was freed in the Everglades eco-system between Homestead and Key Largo. Officials hope she’s not looking for that swimming pool in Key Largo.
“It was kind of shocking to see it. There are so few crocodiles in this area to begin with and in Florida as a whole,” said Gulf Stream Police Investigator John Passeggiata. He kept the small crowd of golfers, some in golf carts, and onlookers at a distance.
The crocodile stayed still on the bank, seemingly oblivious to the crowd. Her only movement was opening and closing her mouth, called “gaping,” which helps regulate the body temperature, and doesn’t mean that the crocodile is acting aggressively, as some observers thought.
“It hadn’t moved all day but as soon as the trapper approached as the sun was going down, he went into the water,” said Passeggiata. “He would come up and we could see his nose and eyes. But the trapper was able to hook him and brought him to land. We assisted pulling the ropes.”
Richard Cochran, a Boynton Beach senior electrical engineer who is a volunteer trapper for the statewide nuisance alligator program at FWC, was the first trapper on the scene. He immediately saw that it was a crocodile and waited for the crocodile trapper from Broward, Bill Gilmartin. This was the first crocodile Cochran had seen in the wild.
“They told me it was a 9-foot alligator on a golf course. That’s a normal thing. We got a hundred or more calls for alligators last year,” he said. “But I knew it was a crocodile. The coloring is different and the snout’s different.”
And there was another big difference. “Instead of being defensive, it was a little more offensive (than an alligator). When we brought him on dry land, instead of sitting down and waiting, he was interested in coming after us,” he said.
They hooked the crocodile — the hooks don’t penetrate the skin — then put a lasso around its neck and two lassos on the snout. “It took about 15 to 20 minutes to pull him in. It took three of us,” Cochran said.
Barbara Sloan watched the capture with her sister Peggy Runnette, both sitting in Runnette’s golf cart. “The trappers were able to lasso him and he started to roll away and started walking,” said Sloan, describing the capture. “The trappers were very gentle with him.”
Patsy Randolph saw the crocodile from her condo and took her camera to the golf course. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a crocodile. The trappers were wonderful. They wrapped her face and eyes. I was so impressed with them.”
Meanwhile, another crocodile has been sighted in North Palm Beach. On Jan. 16, Hord shined a spotlight on a 4.5-foot crocodile on Lost Tree Club golf course, but the crocodile escaped into the water.
“We’ve caught him twice already. Like all animals, some are smart and some are not, and he’s smart. He’s very wary. I’m going to need a little bit of luck to catch him,” Hord said.
Croc vs. Gator
Differences between a crocodile and an alligator, according to the FWC:
Crocodile: Grayish green color. Fourth tooth on lower jaw exposed when mouth is closed. Narrow tapered snout. Young are light with dark stripes.
Alligator: Black in color. Only upper teeth exposed when mouth is closed. Broad rounded snout. Young are dark with yellow stripes.