‘Loneliest crocodile in the world’ gets fresh start; video

Cleatus, known as the loneliest crocodile in the world, was given a fresh start. Photo: Courtesy of Eugeniu Rotari/Flickr

Experts were puzzled when an American crocodile mysteriously showed up 14 years ago on a remote island of the Dry Tortugas National Park where it lived alone in a moat surrounding Fort Jefferson ever since.

The crocodile nicknamed Cleatus was known as the loneliest crocodile in the world since any relatives were more than 130 miles away in the Everglades National Park on the southern tip of Florida.

It's the first-ever crocodile documented near the 19th century fort, located 70 miles west of Key West.

Until recently, it lived peacefully and was skittish around the 200 tourists that would visit the fort every day. But that changed six to eight months ago when park rangers noticed the crocodile spending more time near the campground and swimming beach, according to the Miami Herald.

Increased sightings led to visitors increasingly feeding the crocodile and thus creating a dangerous situation.

"We were starting to see a strong connection between people and food for the croc," retired park biologist Oron Bass told the Herald. "It would start following people. When we start to see a change in behavior like that, it's an indicator that the risk is a lot higher."

Wildlife officials had no choice but to relocate the crocodile.

So the park received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to relocate the lonely crocodile to the Everglades National Park.

Robin Collingsworth and her husband, Shannon, were visiting the fort Sunday when a crowd gathered near the bridge. They had been looking for the crocodile on their visit and figured that is what prompted the commotion. But they didn't expect wildlife officials to capture the crocodile.

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"Shannon said we have to put this on YouTube because it's such an event," Robin told the Herald. "That's something you don't see very often, especially since he's been there for over a decade."

So Collingsworth filmed the relocation process, at least the initial portion of it, and put it on YouTube:

"We were completely torn because obviously he chose to live in that area," Robin said. "But again, maybe he'll find a mate up in the Everglades or find a friend."

The crocodile was flown by floatplane to mainland Florida  where, after recovering from a tranquilizer, it was released Monday in West Lake in Everglades National Park.

Park manager Glenn Simpson told the Herald it was unfortunate but necessary.

"It wasn't a rash decision," Simpson said. "There were two considerations we held highest and that's visitor safety and the safety of the crocodile and it's general health."