Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sanibel's Crocodile

Sanibel Island has one crocodile, that is a female, that some folks call Wilma. It is said that she was first seen here around 1980. She was captured a couple of times and trucked down to the Everglades, but each time she made her way back to Sanibel again. (I've said it before; there's just something about this place.) It is believed that she is the northernmost crocodile in the Western Hemisphere.

She may now, be around 11 or 12 feet in length, weigh over 500 pounds and is only seen a few times each year. Most reports are that she's been in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. That makes it a thrill just to get a glimpse of her. One year, she wasn't seen at all and was thought to have died, much to everyone's relief, she appeared again.

In the Spring, she makes a nest and lays eggs. Since there is no male here the eggs are not fertilized. The story I have heard, is that when she realizes the eggs won't hatch, she has actually stolen alligator babies. When she later discovers that they aren't crocs, she gives them back. It's sad that her mothering instincts are going to waste.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend called to tell me that they had seen Wilma make a nest and lay her eggs,just across the street from their home. They called authorities and they quickly arrived to put a chain link fence partially around that area, with hope of deterring people from getting too close to the nest, which in turn could cause Wilma to feel a need to protect it. They watched as she layed the eggs and said she appeared to be in a trans like state during that time.

When I was past there 2 days later, I didn't see her, but they had seen her swimming in the pond near the nest. Last I talked to them, they say she's there keeping an eye on the eggs. They sent these pictures for me to share. :-)

The American crocodiles, once near the brink of extinction because of hunting and habitat loss, now flourish so at the tip of Florida, that they've been downgraded, in this state from endangered to threatened status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An estimated 2,000 crocodiles are thought to be in the wild in South Florida.

She is directly on the nest, laying her eggs in these photos.

Now I have to add a final note to this story. This is the email sent out from SCCF today:

Ding Darling Refuge and SCCF Honor the Crocodile

On Tuesday, January 26, our one and only saltwater crocodile on the island was found dead on the East River Trail at SCCF, possibly a victim of the lengthy cold of January.

There will be a gathering in her honor on the SCCF porch on Thursday, February 4 at 3 p.m.. Bring your crocodile stories and toast her with a glass of Gatorade.

In her 25 years plus on Sanibel, she helped define our community as one dedicated to living with wildlife, even the big, beautiful, scary ones. She was unique in her 11-foot length (large for a female) and the northernmost of her species in Florida. Her guess-timate age was 40 - 60 years.

Her stories will always be told at SCCF and the Refuge. A plaque will mark her final resting place on East River Trail.