If the newest inhabitant of the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge isn't already the most popular attraction since Wilma, the rare American crocodile who passed away in January, she most likely will be very soon.
That's because last Friday afternoon, a "new" female crocodile, has been brought to Sanibel.
According to refuge manager Paul Tritaik, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) contacted him on May 28, asking if they could relocate the mature crocodile after a state trapper took possession of the reptile that same day in Grove City, Fla.
"It had been found on private property," said Tritaik, who explained that the FWC was looking for an area where crocodiles had recently inhabited.
In the past, crocodiles within the local region have been transported to an released within the Collier County State Park, but the FWC had requested an area not too distant from Grove City, which is located in Charlotte County.
"They were hoping it could be released closer to its native territory," Tritaik said.
After agreeing that Sanibel would be a suitable place for the crocodile to be released, the state trapper and FWC officials began the drive down I-75. Meanwhile, Tritaik began making calls to his refuge staffers, interns and law enforcement officers to prepare for the reptile's arrival.
"Fortunately this happened on a Friday, so Wildlife Drive was already closed to the public," he said. "Everything came together very quickly."
During the transportation of the crocodile, the FWC had placed magnets near her head, hopeful that this would disrupt her orientation from where she had been captured. This process does not harm the animal in any way, Tritaik noted.
Late on Friday afternoon, Tritaik welcomed FWC biologist Lindsey Hord, who oversaw the transportation of the crocodile to the refuge. Once on site, the croc was measured (8 feet, 2.5 inches long) and weighed (approximately 150 pounds). She was also tagged with a red cattle ear tag (#10) on one of her tail scutes.
At sunset, around 8:15 p.m., "Ding" Darling's newest inhabitant was released on the bay side of Wildlife Drive.
"She just stayed put and rested," Tritaik said. "It didn't look like she wanted to go into the water, so after a few minutes we just decided to leave her alone."
The following day, before the refuge was opened to the public, intern Ryan Wagner was dispatched to the site where the crocodile had been released. He reported that there were no signs of her.
But Tritaik is hoping that somebody will spot her soon.
"We alerted our staff and volunteers to be on the lookout for her," he added. "Nobody has reported any sightings so far."
Perhaps that once the croc has gotten accustomed to her new surroundings, she will enjoy the same popularity as Wilma, who called Sanibel her home for more than a quarter of a century.
To report a crocodile sighting, call the J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR at 472-1100.
A female crocodile, measuring more than eight feet and weighing approximately 150 pounds, was released into the J.N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge last week.