Shoot to kill.
It's an unprecedented mandate for a federally protected, threatened animal, but that's the recent edict from Florida Wildlife officials after sightings of a rare, young Nile crocodile along a Miami-area canal.
When full grown, Nile crocodiles are ferocious in a sneak attack. The croc can jump higher, run faster and can grow to nearly 20 feet -- several feet larger than its American cousin.
"Nile crocodiles really don't occur in Florida except for this one I picked up at the fruit and spice park which was in fresh water," said Joe Wasilewski, a wildlife biologist with the FWC in South Florida.
There is concern now that another small Nile crocodile was seen in a canal near Miami.
"It's been in this area for a couple of months, and it's very likely that the animal is still within a mile or two in this area," said Wasilewski. "For whatever reason, it's got its food source. It's got its shelter and it's happy here."
And now there is a shoot to kill order from Florida Fish and Wildlife. The fear lies in the possibility of the crocodile breeding, which would prompt another corruption of Florida's ecosystem, similar to the Burmese python and other exotics released into the wild.
"It's only a three-foot animal, they'll catch it and get rid of it sooner or later," said Dan Costell with Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. "It's not dangerous yet, and a bigger predator like the American alligators they have at the zoo might even grab the Nile croc before any human does."
"He'd be eaten," said Costell. "Because alligators eat prey that small."
Nile crocs grow about a foot a year and won't be ready to mate until they're at least ten years old, so it would take at least a decade or more to become a danger to the public.
Costell also said, the Nile crocs will only mate with other Nile crocs or similarly specied older crocs.
"Because this animal has been searched for so many times, it has become very wary of humans," said Jenny Eckles, a Wildlife Biologist with FWC.
"This one probably will be skittish toward humans because it's a juvenile," said Costell. "When they get older, no. When they get large, 13-16 feet, then they eat large prey."
"The main message of something like this exotic Nile crocodile loose in South Florida is, well number one, it's against the law to release non indigenous species. But potentially dangerous animals, it's just not a good idea," said Wasilewski.
FWC is investigating where the croc came from. It likely escaped from a facility or a local breeder, probably as a hatchling.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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