National Geographic : 2009 Nov
• BY MEL WHITE IN THE SUMMER OF 2008 an American croco- dile le Florida s Biscayne Bay, swam along a yacht-lined canal through the upscale neighborhood of Coral Gables, and took up residence on the campus of the University of Miami, where it occasionally interrupted its sun- bathing on the banks of Lake Osceola to munch on a turtle. e snaggletoothed croc was a daily reminder to students that they d chosen a school in sunny, subtropical Florida and not in, say, Iowa. is wasn t the rst crocodile to appear on campus, but it became the most famous. People took to calling it Donna, a er university president and former Cabinet member Donna Shalala--- this despite the fact that it turned out to be a male. Donna occasionally basked on the grass just yards from the university pub, prompting the relocation of a few picnic tables but causing no further disruption. Early on October 1 someone killed Donna, an act that outraged students and faculty and broke both state and federal laws: e American crocodile is classi ed as endangered by Florida law and threatened by federal law. A month a er the crime, police arrested a man and a teenage boy, who allegedly wanted the skull as a trophy. It s tempting to use Donna as a metaphor for the plight of the world s 23 recognized species of crocodilians, a group of related reptiles includ- ing crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials. Having endured millions of years of planetary climate change, tectonic-plate musical chairs, and other ecological vicissitudes, they face a new challenge to their survival: us. In the 1970s the population of crocodiles in Florida may have dropped to fewer than 400 individuals. e state s booming human pop- ulation had crowded them out of most of the protected saltwater bays where they once lived, and many were killed by poachers for their hides, stu ed for museum displays, or captured for live exhibits. Mel White is a frequent contributor. His articles have covered, among others, pelicans, jaguars, Philippine eagles, and the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker.