Wildlife Officials Say Crocodile is a Traveler
TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) - An 11-foot American crocodile captured last month in Lake Tarpon was born near the Turkey Point nuclear plant in South Florida in 1999 and has apparently traveled quite a bit over the past few years.
In fact, it set a record for the farthest distance ever documented for a crocodile to travel in Florida - from its birth-place in the Miami to Naples and then on to Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse.
Officials believe the croc had been in the lake for at least a year before it was spotted by a resident in July. She called authorities who captured the 700-pound creature.
"He didn't look anything like a gator," said Wanda Vekasi, who spotted the croc in the lake. She told the Tampa Bay Times (http://bit.ly/11IBaGK) he "had big spikes sticking out of his tail. It just looked evil."
Wildlife experts know a little bit about him thanks to markings biologists carve into the scutes - or armored tiles - on the tails of crocodiles born around Turkey Point. The carvings leave a distinctive pattern officials can use to identify the crocodiles.
Experts predict some 2,000 crocodiles live in Florida, where they are classified as an endangered species. Most of the crocodiles live in the Crocodile Lake National Refuge in Key Largo or around Turkey Point, according to wildlife officials.
But this crocodile apparently has wanderlust.
In 2008, the croc - now dubbed "the Lake Tarpon Crocodile" - was spotted on the golf course at Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples, Morse said. The state sent a trapper to catch it.
Lindsey Hord, the state's top crocodile expert, spotted the markings on its tail and took note of its vital signs. At that point, it was 8-feet-4 ¼ inches long. The crocodile was released into the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve south of Naples.
A year later, it returned to the country club. Wildlife officials let it alone that time.
Last year, residents in northern Pinellas County reported seeing a reptile near their docks on Lake Tarpon. The Times reports the croc showed up last fall on a lawn in St. Petersburg's Caya Costa, which is a gated community on Tampa Bay. Then it moved on to Tarpon Springs.
Morse said it's not uncommon for crocodiles to stray from the Turkey Point area. But they usually end up in swimming pools in Miami or on lawns in the Florida Keys. He said he knows of none who have traveled so far.
"Occasionally animals will wander out of their traditional territory," Morse said, pointing out that a manatee once ended up in Massachusetts.
Wildlife officials took the crocodile to an area south of Homestead, where he was released on July 29. And his next adventure may already be underway.
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