MIAMI, April 8 (UPI) -- Experts say the Florida population of American crocodiles is on the rise and they're moving closer to cities, posing a greater risk to people.
In the 1970s, the population of American crocodiles in the deep Everglades numbered about 150, The Miami Herald reported Sunday. Now, scientists say, their numbers have increased to about 1,500.
While crocodiles still are vastly outnumbered by alligators, their increasing population has meant run-ins with humans have become more frequent. And their protected status presents challenges in dealing with them.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission responded to 106 "nuisance'' croc calls in 2011 -- more than 80 percent of those were from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
"There is no question that with the increase in the crocodile population, encounters are much more common," said Lindsey Hord, a biologist in charge of FWC's nuisance reptile program.
The state's 1 million alligators produced about 15,000 nuisance calls a year, but responders are able to deal with those situations head-on.
Salt-water crocodiles, on the other hand, though removed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species list in 2007, remain "threatened," which affects how responders handle calls about nuisance crocs, Hord said.
"That's not a hard-and-fast rule," Hord said. "Realistically, public safety is our absolute first priority but we have to recognize the need of the species."
Although there has been no documentation of an American crocodile killing a human in the wild, Mark Parry, a wildlife biologist with Everglades National Park, said it will likely happen.
"Sooner or later there will probably be, just like with the Florida panther, a first attack on a human," he said.
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