Popular tourist and retiree state, Florida, claims fame from Disney world, tropical palm trees, extensive oceanfront, beautiful weather and now, Nile crocodiles.
Several University of Florida researchers collected four individual crocodiles between 2000 and 2014 in two Florida counties. DNA analysis determined that three of the four individuals’ sequences closely resembled those of Nile crocodiles from South Africa. While the molecular analysis of the fourth crocodile proved inconclusive, the researchers speculate that it was also closely related to the Nile crocodile.
Home to more invasive reptilians than any other governmental region on earth, Florida provided the perfect environment for these Nile crocodiles to survive. The study proved the ability of these animals to survive in their new environment through the legally-required release of one of the captured crocodiles. Recaptured two years later, the crocodile had grown and also traveled some 30 kilometers from its original point of capture.
Kenneth Krysko, a co-author of the study said in a statement released by the University of Florida, “The odds that the few of us who study Florida reptiles have found all of the Nile crocs out there is probably unlikely. We know that they can survive in the Florida wilderness for numerous years, we know that they grow quickly here and we know their behavior in their native range, and there is no reason to suggest that would change here in Florida”.
The study reported on the probable source of introduction for the crocodiles, “Over the last decade several large groups of C. niloticus have been imported from South Africa and Madagascar for both zoological display (e.g., Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and the pet trade, with the latter being the most likely introduction pathway for these individuals”. Burmese pythons, Cuban tree frogs, Nile Monitor lizards and dozens of other species have been introduced into the Everglades in the past decades, most imported through the exotic pet trade.
While there is no definite indication that the crocodiles have been breeding in the Floridian swamps, researchers advise that time is of the essence when removing invasive species, “We suggest that state and federal wildlife agencies coordinate policies regarding capture and transport of protected species outside their native range to facilitate rapid response efforts to remove introduced species”.
Krysko hopes that the discovery of the crocodiles will heighten people’s awareness of the invasive species crisis in Florida and spur support for their removal, “My hope as a biologist is that the introduction of Nile crocodiles in Florida opens everyone’s eyes to the problem of invasive species that we have here in our state,” Krysko said. “Now here’s another one, but this time it isn’t just a tiny house gecko from Africa”.