No elephants

No elephants

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 27 November 2018

I spent two glorious nights camping in the ‘glades over the last weekend due to the traditional US Thanksgiving holiday. After meeting my familial responsibilities and stuffing myself with the requisite feast, I continued my journey south into the backcountry. One way to guarantee that no other human will cross your path is to take off on your journey into the waters after sunset.

There are precious few locations suitable for camping along the mangrove coast of SW Florida. Most of the popular ones are freestanding manmade platforms regulated by the National Park system. But there are miles of beaches along the shore of Florida Bay and a handful of other ground sites. My preference is to avoid the more popular locations as they can get rather boisterous around the holidays. It's not that I don’t like a party, it's just that sometimes I prefer the company of wild animals to that of inebriated humans.

Since I have been camping down there all my adult life (some would argue my use of the word “adult”) I happen to know of some legacy campsites that are no longer publicized. The sites are still viable, but there is a catch. And here I will introduce the once endangered but recently flourishing species of big aquatic lizard: the American Crocodile.


These guys get to about 15 feet in length and up around 1000 pounds. They are limited to the southern tip of Florida and at one time were on the verge of extinction in the US. I don’t think I ever saw one up until 20 years ago, and even then they were a rarity. For some reason, especially since the fish-killing freeze in 2010, their numbers have been rapidly increasing in the areas I like to visit. To the untrained eye, they are likely to be confused with the common alligator, but they are lighter in color and are much more prehistoric looking when closely observed. When mostly submerged, with only the top of their head above water, they have an unmistakable hump between their eyes and nostrils, while an alligator usually only shows four points emerging above of the water.


Unlike their Australian and African relatives, they have seldom been known to attack humans, at least not for immediate consumption, although they have been known to occasionally be in a bad mood. My less enjoyable interaction with them has most often been one of sudden fear, for if you happen to accidentally sneak up on one they flee in a panic. A 15-foot half-ton animal launching into the water as you quietly paddle along enjoying the tranquility can really cause you to jump! The thing is, crocs like humans really appreciate those isolated few spots of high ground.


On this last trip, the campsite I found by memory, GPS, and flashlight seemed suspiciously well maintained, but I paid it no mind. I was drowsy from the turkey and the drive, so after setting up my hammock I quickly retired. It was a glorious night, full of the sounds after dark while full of the moon too. I tried to soak it all in, but in too short a time I fell asleep.


I woke rather late for me. I usually am sensitive to the first hint of dawn but the transition from the light of the full moon to a gently lightening eastern sky was subtle. When I realized I was wasting the most precious fishing time of the day I quickly boarded the canoe. And that is when we met.


Apparently, he (it had to be a he as a she doesn’t get that big) was heading in just as I was heading out. But he did not panic. Instead, he just sat there, right in my path, and seemed to be mulling his options. I have never encountered a wild croc that did not flee. There are somewhat tame ones that hang around the boat ramps in Everglades National Park, but all others tend to be quite shy. So, I assumed this was one of the boat ramp guys that, like me, had put in some miles to avoid the holiday crowd.


I moved out with authority, and eventually, he turned and idled away. But the entire time he seemed to be looking over his shoulder and contemplating his options. My canoe is 16 feet, not much longer then he, but I guess just enough.


The fishing was actually pretty good, but it paled in comparison to the beauty of one of my favorite places.

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