- Florida is hiring part-time workers to respond to complaints, calls
- Officials want residents and resurgent crocodiles to co-exist
- Still, they urge steps to reduce the likelihood of problems
"Ride 'em cowboy" types need not apply.
Rather, the ideal candidate for this part-time position must be flexible, mature, a good listener and non-confrontational.
Experience, however, is not necessary. (That might be because so few people would have that kind of experience.)
The state of Florida is advertising for crocodile response agents to handle complaints from residents and, in the relatively rare event it is necessary, to capture and move crocs. Training will be provided.
The addition of more agents comes amid the encouraging rebound of the American crocodile in Florida -- an estimated 2,000 non-hatchlings, up from about 300 in the mid-1970s -- and the accompanying rise in complaint calls.
"(The crocodile) is moving back into places where they have not been seen in decades," said Lindsey Hord, crocodile response coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "That is obviously resulting in conflict."
While the vast majority of the crocs are in Everglades National Park, many live in the Florida Keys and along the Atlantic Ocean in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
The program currently has nine agents who serve as "eyes and ears" on the crocodile population, responding to calls and patiently listening to residents unhappy with what they consider reptilian encroachment.
The job pays $25 an hour, including vehicle expenses. "It is not something you do for the money," said Hord, adding the hiring process weeds out those who do not live close to where the work will take them.
Some applicants, he told CNN, say they want to wrestle the animals. That's a no-go.
Often, the role of the team is to educate residents about not dangling incentives in front of crocodiles, such as having an unfenced dog near water or dumping yummy fish remains into a canal after a day of fishing.
Peaceful co-existence is the aim
And while some creatures are moved -- about eight or so out of an estimated 200 complaints in 2013 -- most remain because they do not meet the criteria for removal. Those that are relocated often return to their capture site.
It is unlawful to kill crocodiles in Florida.
Hord notes the creatures -- listed as threatened in Florida -- are increasingly returning to their historic ranges. The commission describes crocodiles as shy and reclusive but potentially dangerous.
Their increasing presence can be a problem when they come close to residents, including newcomers.
"It is the agency's hope that people will co-exist with crocodiles," said Hord.
"We have no objective to unilaterally remove crocodiles from anywhere. We strictly react to complaints. We don't go out looking for crocodiles," he said.
Hord spoke Wednesday with a woman who just rented a home in Broward County. She has small children and a dog. "She was just now aware there were crocodiles. She was not overly upset but concerned."
The coordinator told her there are no documented reports of crocodiles biting humans.
A bigger danger is swimming pool safety for her children. Regarding the pooch, it might be good to have a fence to keep the crocodiles and alligators -- which number about 1.3 million in Florida -- away.
"It is about putting things into context," Hord said.
'They ... sense we are something different'
Calls and complaints generally rise after a dog is killed by a crocodile, such as last year in southeast Miami. Wildlife officials encourage homeowners not to swim in potential danger zones, or allow their dogs in the water.
"Sometimes, it is hard for people to change," Hord said, pointing out Key residents accustomed to swimming and scuba diving just yards from their homes. "It is not going to go back the way it was 30 years ago."
In certain areas, if a complaint comes in and the crocodile is 9 feet long or over, hangs around an area or ends up in a swimming pool, officials move it. On its third capture, an animal will be removed from the wild and placed in a conservation park or similar facility.
Biologists have been studying whether magnets will keep crocs from returning to areas where they are not welcome. The idea is that the magnets will disrupt their sense of the Earth's magnetic field, making it harder for them to orient themselves after their release. Results so far are mixed.
Crocs, Hord said, have keen eyesight and hearing.
"They can learn very quickly to be habituated to people. They learn very quickly that people are not a threat to them if they are not."
Interestingly, when it's time for a capture, the reptiles often are wary.
"They seem to be able to sense we are something different," Hord said. "Then they disappear."
After 32 years of this type of work, Hord has fond feelings and memories for certain crocodiles.
"A lot of us were very attached," to one tagged Blue No. 9 that was shot and killed last year in Islamorada. She had been moved once after laying 27 eggs that failed to produce viable offspring. A memorial service was held on the beach.