Miami American crocodiles, once reduced to a few hundred reclusive reptiles hidden among the mangroves of the deep Everglades, are crawling off the endangered species list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday said crocodiles in South Florida - the only place they live in the United States - have rebounded so impressively that they no longer face imminent risk of extinction. The crocs will be officially reclassified as "threatened" next month.
"It's really a great thing," said Cindy Schulz, endangered species supervisor for the service's Vero Beach field office. "It means the crocodile is doing much better."
Crocodiles, skittish salt-water reptiles often mistaken for the lurking alligators so common in backyard canals, remain rare at an estimated 1,400 to 2,000 animals - not including hundreds of hatchlings gulped by adults after every breeding season.
But the population has multiplied five- to ten-fold since the crocodile was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1975, when most of the 200 to 300 crocs were living along northeast Florida Bay in Everglades National Park.