A recent spike in crocodile sightings in Lake Osceola has prompted the University of Miami Department of Public Safety and the Florida Wildlife Commission to respond to the situation.
But crocodiles in Lake Osceola are nothing new.
In 2004 a 250-pound croc measuring 9-feet-long was professionally removed and relocated to a more suitable habitat. Wildlife officials attempted to capture and remove one sunning by the Rat last week, but they were unsuccessful.
“We’re seeing more of them at this time of year because it’s mating season,” said Lt. Bill Gerlach of UM police. “The habitat here provides them with peace and quiet and a good food source.”
According to the FWC, South Florida is home to between 500 and 1,200 crocodiles. While they are an endangered species, crocodiles have experienced a dramatic comeback in the past two decades. This increase in population is believed to be the cause for the more frequent crocodile sightings on the Coral Gables campus.
“As the population of crocodiles grows, they need to disperse,” said Lindsey Hord, a crocodile response coordinator for the FWC. “And the UM campus is an attractive place for them to disperse to.”
Hord said Miami is historically one of the most crocodile populated places in South Florida, so their return to the area is natural. The crocodiles make the trip here through the interconnected canal system that runs through the city.
Crocodiles are often confused with their more dangerous reptilian counterpart, the alligator. Crocodiles are relatively shy animals.
Dani Moschella, the public information coordinator for the FWC, said there has never been a documented attack on a human by a crocodile in Florida.
“They don’t see us as a food source,” she said. “We’re just too big for them to eat.”
Despite attempts to remove the crocodiles, Moschella thinks the best plan is to foster a safe relationship between the UM community and the transient crocodiles.
“If you move them, they tend to come back,” she said. “It’s part of their behavior.”
Hord supports the idea of accepting the crocodiles as a new addition to the campus wildlife.
“As their numbers increase, we’ll see more of them,” he said. “They are reestablishing their historical range.”
UM, in conjunction with the FWC, is developing a plan to educate the Coral Gables campus community about crocodiles and promote safe behavior around them. The plan includes installing new signs around the lake, public service announcements and a presentation on crocodiles for incoming students.
“The safety issue with the crocs is pretty important,” Gerlach said. “The opportunity to get the information out is the number one action we need to take.”
Students’ response to the crocodile sightings is mixed. Some enjoy it, while others consider their presence more of a threat.
“I haven’t been lucky enough to see a big one, but I always keep my eyes out,” Allyson Sedlak, a sophomore, said. “I think it’s really cool we have crocodiles on our campus.”
Nate Stout, a senior, thinks the school needs to take a more hands-on approach.
“The students have to feel safe, especially since the lake is in the middle of campus and so many students walk by it on a daily basis,” he said. “I saw one on the sidewalk by Eaton and it’s one thing for them to be in the water, but when they’re out in the grass it’s dangerous.”
UM police advise students to maintain their distance if they do see a crocodile and call the safety hotline at 305-284-6666.
“The most important thing I can say is, ‘Stay away from the crocodiles,'” Gerlach said. “There is nothing in their behavior that would pose a threat to humans. The threat is dependent on human behavior.”
Veronica Sepe may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.