Authorities in a small Florida town have issued a warning to the public following a sighting of an American crocodile.
The crocodile was spotted this month in a residential area of Melbourne Beach, which is located on the state’s east coast, over an hour’s drive away from Orlando.
“Florida Fish and Wildlife [FWC] is aware of this croc hanging around Sixth Avenue River Access and the Key Streets. They [estimate] his age to be about 10 years old,” Melbourne Beach Police Department said in a Facebook post.
The FWC has tagged this specimen with a tracking device because he’s one of the northernmost known American crocodiles. Researchers want to follow where he goes in the winter. Less than 12 American crocodiles statewide have been fitted with such a device.
“He is federally protected, so please do not mess with or FEED him; it is a Felony,” the police department said.
American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) inhabit coastal areas throughout the Caribbean, with the northern end of their range encompassing South Florida and the Keys. The state is the only place this species is found in the wild.
The animals were listed as an endangered species in the United States in 1975, although conservation efforts have enabled numbers to bounce back from a few hundred individuals to as many as 2,000 adults today.
Nevertheless, they are still a relatively rare sight in the country—there are approximately 5 million American alligators spread out across the Southeast by comparison. Today, American crocodiles are classified as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Conflicts between these animals and people tend be extremely rare in Florida. But they still pose a risk to humans who get too close given their size and formidable teeth.
Melbourne Beach Police Department chief Melanie Griswold told Newsweek the purpose of the Facebook post regarding the American crocodile sighting in the town was to increase awareness for residents and visitors.
“I only alerted our residents because of the dangers of these creatures,” Griswold said. “Residents that walk their small dogs need to be aware, and no one likes to be surprised. I also placed an informational video explaining what people should and shouldn’t do when encountering a crocodile, such as not feeding or messing with them, as it is a felony.”
The police department has received only a handful of calls regarding a crocodile over the past few years, according to Griswold.
“I am not positive if this is the same one. Each time it was reported to FWC,” she said.
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