(WSVN) - A predator from the Amazon is making itself feel right at home here South Florida, and a highly specialized group of marine biologists called the Croc Docs are trying to remove as many of the reptiles as they can. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek has tonight’s special assignment report.
You are looking into the eyes of an invader from the Amazon!
Sidney Godfrey: “This is the target. This is what we are after.”
This is a spectacled caiman.
It’s the South American cousin of our American alligator, but they’re now found in these wetlands west of Kendall.
Most likely because people released them after realizing they make horrible pets.
Kevin Ozebek: “What is the size of a caiman that could be in this wetland behind us?”
Sidney Godfrey, UF Croc Doc Biologist: “We can have males out here that are up to 6, maybe 6.5 feet.”
Sidney Godfrey and fellow caiman catcher Justin Dalaba are two of the University of Florida’s Croc Docs.
We followed this group of specialized biologists before, as they tracked hatchlings of native American crocodiles, but right now, Sidney and Justin are focused on invasive caimans.
Justin Dalaba, UF Croc Doc Biologist: “Unfortunately, these guys are here through no fault of their own, and it’s our mission to better understand what impacts they’re having on our ecosystem.”
So as the sun sets, Justin and Sidney prepare to remove as many caimans as they can.
Kevin Ozebek: “And you don’t get nervous before a night like this?”
Sidney Godfrey: “No, not anymore. When I first started, I won’t lie, I got nervous, but since I’ve been doing it awhile, if anything, I get excited.”
As most wildlife settles in for the night, the two biologists drive along canals and shine spotlights into the reeds.
They’re looking for what they call eye shine.
Caimans and their American cousins have eyes that reflect light.
Justin Dalaba: “It’s looking straight at us right now.”
After less than 30 minutes of searching, they spot eye shine.
Sidney and Justin wade into the water. Sidney then makes a quick move.
Kevin Ozebek: “Is that a caiman?”
Justin Dalaba: “That’s a spectacled caiman!”
Kevin Ozebek: “You’re kidding! So you found one?”
Justin Dalaba: “We caught a caiman!”
Sidney caught this 2-foot-long, roughly 3-year-old caiman with his bare hands.
Kevin Ozebek: “Did you get a thrill out of that?”
Sidney Godfrey: “Yeah, that’s always a rush!”
So, even though it’s just a 3-year-old caiman, you can feel this would be a powerful animal. You can feel the muscle inside of it.
Justin Dalaba: “We got lucky tonight. We were able to grab one. It’s hit or miss. Some nights, we come out here, and we look for hours and hours and see absolutely nothing. Some nights, we’re getting out of the truck every two to three minutes.”
So far, the Croc Docs have removed and humanely euthanized about 240 caimans in South Florida.
The bigger ones are removed this way, but the real prize is catching young ones before they have a chance to breed.
Justin Dalaba: “We’re constantly evolving and adopting our research methods, so traditionally, we have been doing nocturnal driving surveys, but one of the pieces we’re missing is we don’t know exactly where they are nesting.”
So, to find those nests, the Croc Docs have taken to the sky.
With their drone, they have spotted alligators, but they hope to find nesting caimans, so they can remove and destroy the eggs, but until they can spot nests with their drone, they’ll keep catching caimans by hand!
In these wetlands where the Croc Docs said caimans once ruled, they have started to see the American alligator return!
Sidney Godfrey: “And that is really encouraging. It’s a sign our removal efforts may be working, but we just need to keep the pressure up and see if that trend is going to continue.”
Copyright 2021 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.