Recovering American Crocodile Reclassified From Endangered to Threatened
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that recovery efforts are making it possible to reclassify the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in Florida from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“Crocodiles were a part of Florida’s history for hundreds of years until human activities such as urban development, agricultural conversion, and over-hunting decimated their populations,” said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “However, in the past 30 years, we have made great strides in protecting this species and conserving its habitat. Today, we can celebrate their comeback as a result of the recovery efforts by numerous dedicated professionals who are helping sustain a vital part of Florida’s natural and cultural history.”
The Service’s final reclassification decision comes after the completion of its 5-year review required under the ESA for all endangered and threatened species. An endangered species is defined as being in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future. A threatened classification means a species could become endangered. Reclassifying a species from endangered to the less-critical threatened designation is often reflective of recovery efforts reducing imminent threats and allowing populations to increase.
The American crocodile is being reclassified in southern Florida, its only habitat within the United States. The crocodile will remain endangered where it occurs in other countries, including Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. The species also occurs in southern coastal regions of the Atlantic and Pacific, including the Pacific coast of Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, as well as the Greater Antilles (with the exception of Puerto Rico).
The American crocodile in Florida was originally listed as an endangered species in 1975. In 1976, the Florida population was estimated to be between 200 and 300 individuals. Today, the population of American crocodiles in Florida has grown to an estimated 1,400 to 2,000 individuals, not including hatchlings.
The American crocodile is one of two native crocodilians (the other being the American alligator) that occur in the U.S. It can be distinguished from the American alligator by a relatively narrow, more pointed snout and by an indentation in the upper jaw that leaves the fourth tooth of the lower jaw exposed when the mouth is closed. Crocodiles are shy and secretive, and remain solitary for most of the year. At hatching, crocodiles are approximately 10 inches long, but can grow to over 12.5 feet long in the U.S., as adults.
The Service has completed a recovery plan for numerous imperiled species in southern Florida, including the American crocodile. In order to reclassify the American crocodile from endangered to threatened, the recovery plan requires a sustained breeding population of 60 females. About 95 percent of the remaining crocodile habitat in southern Florida has been acquired by federal, state, and county agencies. These protected areas should allow the crocodile population to expand and may provide additional nesting opportunities.
In making the announcement, Hamilton gave special recognition to Florida Power and Light, Everglades National Park and the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge for their role in protecting crocodiles and their habitat. However, Hamilton noted that several threats to crocodiles remain, including habitat degradation, nest depredation, and increased encounters between crocodiles and people. The Service will continue to work with its partners to manage these threats.
Though the status of this species has changed from endangered to threatened,
Federal agencies will still ensure that the activities they authorize,
fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence
of this species. In addition, American crocodiles are still protected
from illegal take (meaning to harass, harm, and pursue, hunt, shoot,
wound, kill trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these), import
or export, ship in interstate commerce in the course of commercial activity,
or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed
species. It is also illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport,
or ship any such crocodiles taken illegally.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/. Atlanta, GA 30345, Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286