NPR is reporting that three separate crocodilians that were captured from the Everglades and DNA-tested showed that Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) do indeed have a presence in Florida. Researchers at the University of Florida confirmed that the Nile Crocodiles that were tested did not escape from any known captive populations, and it’s extremely unlikely that any of them have naturally migrated from Africa to the Everglades. It seems more probable that the presence of these larger, more aggressive crocodilians can be attributed to the illegal animal trade, and that they either escaped or were deliberately released into the wetlands of Florida.
The Everglades are occupied by the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), which is a lot more docile and, on average, smaller than the Nile Crocodile. Florida is already currently dealing with problems related to invasive species, the most notorious of which include Burmese pythons and various types of carnivorous lizards. While the presence of Nile Crocodiles in the Everglades doesn’t quite rise to the level of urgency as that of other invasive species, the Everglades is a fragile and protected ecosystem, and it’s not easy to control these types of problems.
You can do your part by being realistic about the types and numbers of animals you can care for, and to only keep animals that are legal in your city and/or state. If an animal in your care exceeds your ability to keep it safe, healthy and contained, don’t just abandon it in the local ecosystem. It’s bad for the animal, and potentially very bad for the ecosystem. Do your research and only buy animals from reputable, legal entities. Don’t contribute to the depletion of animals from their natural habitat. As long as there is a market for exotic and illegal pets, this will keep happening.