An eight-to-ten foot long endangered American crocodile was found headless and tailless in a canal on the University of Miami’s campus on Wednesday. While the investigation of the brutal killing is ongoing, students and investigators alike speculate about who committed the act and what their motive could have been.
A mesh bag with fishing chum discovered on the canal bank, located next to UM’s Flipse Building – where the University of Miami Police Department and the department of Parking and Transportation are – suggests the crocodile was lured to its death, then its head and tail were severed off with a weapon that has not yet been found, said Officer Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“It could have been someone that just wanted to do this as a prank or someone who needed the animal for food,” Pino said. “There’s nothing that would indicate that the animal was shot.”
“We don’t have a suspect at this time,” said Carol Pratt of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Crocodiles are rare so maybe someone thought it would be a great trophy, but they would be so restricted in what they can do with the parts [of the body] since American Crocodiles are endangered and it is illegal to kill them or possess any part of them.”
An individual seeking the parts of an American Crocodile would be able to find the animals throughout South Florida, South America and Central America, said Pratt. With just three American Crocodiles on the University of Miami’s campus, many students wonder why the perpetrator chose an enclosed community such as UM.
Pino was unable to specify the exact time that the incident occurred.
About ten offices are located on the ground level of the Flipse Building, with large windows directly facing the location in which the crocodile carcass was discovered by a university service worker. The offices are shared by UMPD and Parking and Transportation employees, who typically end their shifts at about 5 p.m. on weekdays. If the crocodile had been murdered in the middle of the night, those employees would not have been working in offices to witness the incident. The only area of the Police Department that remains open at night is the dispatch office, located at the entrance of the building.
“There’s no surveillance on the Flipse Building [facing the canal],” Pino said.
University officials from the department of Student Affairs and UMPD refused to comment about what university department is responsible for funding the installation of surveillance cameras and implementation of security measures on campus.
There are apparently security cameras on the southeast corner of the Dickinson-West lot, southwest by Hecht Residential College, on the Ceramics Building facing Dickinson Drive and Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The university would not comment on the functionality or role of the cameras in the investigation.
Santeria, a religion that combines elements of African and Catholic beliefs and whose followers historically participate in animal sacrifices, does not seem to be involved in the crocodile slaying, said Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, an assistant professor of Religious Studies. There are approximately 60 botanicas catering to the needs of Santeria followers in the greater Miami area, according to Cuban-exile.com.
“The incident with the crocodile on UM’s campus has absolutely nothing to do with Santeria or Voodoo,” Maldonado told The Miami Hurricane in an e-mail. “Animal sacrifice in these religions is a sacred act, one that brings you closer to the divine, and is always performed in a ritual setting. In addition, authentic practitioners of these religions would never abandon the body of an animal intended for sacrifice in this manner. The animal, as part of the ritual, is considered a sacred object.”
Rumors placing blame on students at Florida State University for the crocodile killing have been circulating on Web sites such as Juicy Campus.
“Football rivalries and school rivalries are one thing. They’re chill. But if we find out you killed our croc that is another thing. How could you do such a thing to an animal like that?” said an anonymous post on Florida State University’s message board on Juicy Campus on Thursday.
“I heard they were seniors from FSU, but that could be just a rumor,” said an anonymous post on the University of Miami’s message board on Juicy Campus, on Thursday.
Some students have expressed concern about campus security and the lack of surveillance cameras on the University of Miami Police Department, located approximately 20 feet from the canal where the crocodile carcass was found.
“The fact that the police didn’t detect an obvious crime makes me kind of nervous. It boggles my mind,” said freshman Megan Moran. “It’s kind of scary that it happened in the middle of campus. It took a significant amount of time. I can’t believe that no one noticed this going on.”
The butchering of the crocodile may have even more serious implications; especially if the perpetrator is a member of the University of Miami community.
Researchers have linked animal cruelty to domestic violence, child abuse, serial killings and to the recent rash of killings by school-age children, according to The Humane Society of the United States.
“From what I’ve been told, there’s no reason to believe that it’s a UM student [who killed the crocodile],” said Brandon Gross, president of Student Government.
Pino said that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is working with the Coral Gables forensics unit as well as UMPD on the investigation, using “high-tech tactics,” although there are “no leads yet.”
American crocodiles are an endangered species in Florida. The person who killed the crocodile could face a third-degree felony charge. If convicted, he or she could go to prison for five years or pay a $5,000 fine.
CompUSA is offering a reward of $5,000 for a tip leading to an arrest.
Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hot line at 888-404-3922 or Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-8477.
“Our campus gets deserted at night. It’s scary that security failed in such an extreme way.”
Megan Moran, freshman
“I don’t know why we don’t know anything about it, not even an e-mail. [The incident] made me a lot more vigilant. I normally don’t think twice about walking around campus at night, but now I’ll be more aware.”
Jessica Salans, sophomore