20 May 2016

No mystery how invaders cross oceans

I hate it when news organizations act boggled when there is no reason to be.

Man-Eating Nile Crocodiles Found In Florida, And No One Knows How They Got There

Obviously, the “man-eating” thing is a bit overblown and lurid, but it’s that second half that bugs the heck out of me.

Nile crocodiles are large (hence, potential “man-eaters”) animals that live in Africa. There is one way, and only one way, that they got across the Atlantic Ocean to wind up in Florida.

People moved them.

They didn’t swim. They weren’t carried off by flying rocs and dropped off. They weren’t picked up in some freakish weather event. (Though Crocnado would be an awesome name for a bad SyFy movie, if sharks hadn’t got there first.)

Sure, maybe we want some more details about who did the moving and why. The article goes on to suggest someone thought a Nile crocodile would be a great pet. The technical paper notes:

Over the last decade several large groups of C. niloticus have been imported from South Africa and Madagascar for both zoological display (e.g., Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and the pet trade, with the latter being the most likely introduction pathway for these individuals.

Saying, “Nobody know how they got there” is a lame dodge of responsibility. It’s just another example of humans messing with wildlife. We need to recognize that, and not absolve people through “mystery.” A few years ago, I heard someone on a radio show say something like, “Our pets have become family, and wild animals have become our pets.” We need to get over this notion that almost any type of animal can be a pet.

Hat tip to Andrew Thaler. Update: Andrew rightfully points out:

The specific mode of each introduction is hugely important. Accidental release from a zoo? Illegal exotic trade? Unintentional transmission via shipping? Those details matter, and we don't know yet.

That’s a fair comment. Those details are important. They may be more important for those of us studying the pet trade or working on policy than it is in a general news story. In a general news story, more good might be done by spreading the message, “Don’t keep exotics.”


Rochford MR et al. 2016. Molecular analyses confirming the introduction of Nile crocodiles, Crocodylus niloticuslaurenti 1768 (Crocodylidae), in Southern Florida, with an assessment of potential for establishment, spread, and impacts. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 11(1): 80–89. http://www.herpconbio.org/Volume_11/Issue_1/Rochford_etal_2016.pdf

External links

Man-Eating Nile Crocodiles Found In Florida, And No One Knows How They Got There

Picture from here.

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