It is the twilight. After a long day basking and defending your territory, you retire to the depths to prepare for another day. Then, an aroma tantalizes your nostrils. Instinctively you search for its source. As you grow increasingly hungry, you leave the comfort of water for land. The odor is intoxicating and sinister. On shore you are vulnerable to the elements… and people. Suddenly, a sharp pain spears through your neck. Everything goes black.
On the night of Oct. 1, 2008, a heinous act took place. One of UM’s honorary citizens – an eight-foot-long American crocodile – was mercilessly decapitated and dismembered under the light of the moon. Who could have committed such a crime? Was it the business of poachers? Could it have been a shameful fraternity prank or an act of retaliation by gator-hating FSU fans?
The latter seems unlikely because most students and faculty marvel at the powerful beasts. However, it is certainly possible that someone killed the creature to prove his or her dominance. The way the animal was beheaded suggests that the murderer kept the crocodile’s skull as a trophy, just like a deer hunter with a stag. The assassin, likely armed with a machete, then sliced off the tail for food.
The conflict between crocodiles and people is not new, especially at the University of Miami. Since the first sightings in 2004, authorities have kept a close eye on the reptiles. Since ancient times Western societies have feared and persecuted them. Entrepreneurs trapped them, skinning them for applications in the purse, wallet and shoe industries. Prior to the 19th Century, American crocodiles numbered in the millions, populating the brackish wetlands of the Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern United States. Their cousins, the American alligator, occupied a similar range.
Years of slaughter for the skin trade and persecution left their populations in tatters. While alligators have rebounded, fewer than 2,000 American crocodiles remain. Every animal matters.
Because of the crocodiles’ plight the government gave the species “endangered” status, which guarantees strong federal protection until it significantly recovers. The penalty for killing an American crocodile is up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The murderers have committed both a moral atrocity upon an animal and a federal felony against its species, and must suffer the consequences to the fullest extent of the law. We have lost more than just a croc; we have lost a symbol of the Everglades.