Local TV affiliates have decided to make the recent crocodile hunting at UM their soft news feature story the past few days, camping out near the Rathskeller and hounding students for interviews. Most of the sound bytes that end up on TV, however, are of students saying they’re worried about the presence a nine-foot reptile in such close proximity to people. Nevertheless, that’s really not what we tend to hear on campus.
Oh, we know that crocodiles are potentially dangerous reptiles, that there’s a risk of a student trying to feed the animal or get to close it (which, for the record, is against the law), and that it’s rather frightening to see beady yellow eyes peaking from the lakeshore in the dark. In effect, there’s no real need for a crocodile on campus, as it doesn’t bring anything to the students except occasional entertainment and something to talk about.
Yet, the crocodile (crocodiles?) living in Lake Osceola has practically become our second mascot. Some have resorted to unofficially naming it Larry Rodriguez, and it’s undeniable that UM students feel affectionate toward the leathery creature. For one, the “I love the crocodiles in our lake” group on Thefacebook.com already counts with more than 155 members, and nothing quite stops people walking to class as seeing a crocodile sunbathing on top of the base of the Cobb Fountain.
Luckily, the American crocodile – the kind we have in our lake, a species that also happens to be endangered – has not been known to attack humans in the state of Florida, unlike its broader-snouted alligator cousins (then again, we already knew we didn’t like Gators!).
There may be fewer birds and fish in the lake now (our buddy needs to eat, after all), but we would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit that we enjoy having an excuse to sit by the lake waiting for our friend the croc to come up for a breath (once every 45 minutes, approximately).
In the past our lake has also played host to manatees, and those are nice too – maybe too nice. Manatees swim along, being their slow, peaceful, vegetarian selves, whereas the allure of the Osceola crocs may be precisely that they are a potential menace and that their sharp teeth stick out. Human nature being as it is we enjoy bragging to our somewhat-concerned parents and awed friends that “a 15-foot crocodile lives in our lake!” taking a dramatic license and exaggerating measurements, of course.
By now we’re used to explaining to touring parents, students and alumni why we have sign by the lake that matter-of-factly state, “alligators have been spotted in the lake and waterways.” We explain the signs proudly, as our lake tenants have become a source of folklore and legend around campus. Upperclassmen separate themselves from underclassmen by the number of crocodile-and-alligator sightings they’ve lived through: “Oh, I was here when there was a whole family of crocodiles…but I guess you wouldn’t remember.”
If the crocodile must be removed, then it would be fun for it to be done by Steve, the “Don’t try this at home” Crocodile Hunter from Animal Planet. With his little khaki outfit, chubby cheeks and Australian accent, the so-called crocodile wrestler would be an entertaining (and, yes, educational) way of relocating the croc.
We understand that the crocodile needs to be removed for its own safety and ours, but we will miss it and, deep down, we all wish it were sticking around. It’s a source of anecdotes, conversation and photo-ops, and, if nothing else, it serves as the best deterrent from jumping in the lake.