For wildlife officials, today is an important milestone and a sign of success. After three decades, the American crocodile goes off the federal endangered species list. It happened because science, government and industry agreed to protect a prehistoric animal that was about to go away.
The ancient predator had become a victim of development, habitat loss and hunting.
"We're doing something good, and they are responding," Joe Wasilewski, a wildlife biologist, says.
In the United States, the crocodile is found only in South Florida. It's much more reclusive than its cousin, the alligator and 32 years ago was placed on the endangered species list.
In 1975, the American crocodile was very close to extinction in the U.S., with only 200 of them — and just 10 to 20 breeding females. Scientists say there now may be as many as 2,000 crocodiles in Florida. But to collect data, they have to catch them!
Over the years, Wasilewski has captured thousands of crocodiles, gathering information on their feeding and nesting habits and their growth rates.
"We're learning how to manage the species better," Wasilewski says.
Wildlife experts say the main reason crocodiles rebounded is that sanctuaries were set aside to protect them. One in the Everglades National Park, a second at Crocodile Lake in Key Largo, and a third at the cooling canals of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant, where crocodiles are thriving.
"The key to recovery of endangered species is habitat, habitat, habitat," says Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife scientist at the University of Florida.
After nearly losing the crocodile, a successful man-made effort to bring it back.