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Thriving Florida crocodile seen as success story, nuisance and job opportunity

At this stage of their lives, crocodiles and their soon-to-be terrifying mouthfuls of teeth are actually kind of cute.

"These are American crocs," Mario Aldocoa, Florida Power & Light’s crocodile specialist, said at its Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant far south of Miami.

At the moment, he was handling 7-inch-long crocodile hatchlings, recently snatched from their mother’s nests and embedded with a tracking chip in their tail. It’s a crocodile monitoring program that the power company, FPL, has been doing for years.

"And then one day when he gets bigger, he'll try and eat me as revenge," Aldacoa said -- a joke, sort of.

Aldacoa took Fox News out out on his air boat to release the little reptiles. Riding along, it was possible to spot at least eight crocodiles, which quickly submerged as the boat approached.

Back in the '70s, the Florida crocodile numbered only in the hundreds. Then, it was officially listed as an endangered species. Today, the numbers of crocodiles living in Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys is about 2,000.

The numbers continue to rise, and people are coming into contact with the animals more often as a result. Now that it's illegal to hunt them, crocs are even showing up in South Miami neighborhoods.

One showed up recently lurking across the front lawn of a house early in the morning, walking right past the kids’ toys.

But more often, they’re showing up in Monroe County, down in the Florida Keys. That’s concerning residents, as well as the state.

Roxie, a 65-pound American Stafford Terrier, was hanging out by the backyard canal that belongs to Larry and Janet Porath, when suddenly they heard a bark and then a splash. A 10-foot crocodile had shot four feet out of the water, grabbed Roxie and pulled her in.

After drowning Roxie, that croc got away.

“We need to have a little bit of separation,” Captain John Houpt, a Florida fishing guide, said. “They're fun to look at, but once they get too comfortable with humans, they view them as a source of food."

That is certainly true in the Florida Keys, where most tourists come to fish. That means a whole lot of “chum” is tossed into the water, free food for the crocodiles.

Houpt is one of about 150 people — including one croc hunter in Australia — who have applied to be a Florida crocodile response agent. The Florida Wildlife Commission plans to hire three agents, each paid $25 an hour.

It’s an unusual job, and risky, to say the least. But many, like Key Largo school teacher Frank Resillez, still want the job.

“My technique?" Resillez said. "You start by the tail, you pull him backward, destabilize his footing, get on his neck, climb on his back and grab its mouth. And then wrap duct tape around it, at least 4 times.”

Florida’s Wildlife Commission is still taking applications. Duct tape not included.

Phil Keating joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in March 2004 and currently serves as FNC's Miami-based correspondent.

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