Everglades Wonder Gardens crocodiles get checkup from National Geographic TV host Shawn Heflick

9:33 AM, Apr 17, 2013   |    comments
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  • Bonita Springs, Florida (News-Press) -- Thrashing its head and snapping its jaws, this crocodile was not going to make it easy for National Geographic Wild's "Python Hunters" TV host to determine its sex.

    Shawn Heflick coaxed the croc out of a corner, used a pole to cinch a rope around the neck and attempted to place a wet towel over its eyes but the croc kept fending it off.

    "It's like a waltz," said Heflick, who was at Everglades Wonder Gardens on Tuesday.

    The 77-year-old Bonita Springs wildlife rehabilitation center is closing Sunday. Heflick, a biologist, is looking to buy a pair of American crocodiles native to Florida he could possibly breed. He owns Crocodile Manor in Brevard County, home to 11 species of crocs that is closed to the public but will start offering VIP educational and conservation tours.

    See Also: Man accused of breaking in, trying to free animals from closing zoo

    The unruly reptile eventually tired enough to leave the towel on its head so Heflick waited for a few minutes to let it relax. Attempting not to cut his backside on the croc's scales, he hopped on and held its neck while Everglades Wonder Gardens owner David Piper stuck his finger in the slit of its underside.

    "I'm not feeling much in there. It might be a female," Piper said.

    They switched places, carefully, and Heflick confirmed the sex.

    Dave's wife, Dawn Piper, knew it all along.

    "Because it won't shut its mouth?" Heflick asked.

    "Females just have major attitude," she said.

    Dave Piper was ecstatic. "That's money," he shouted. He said plenty of male nuisance crocs exist but females are more valuable to zoos and private collectors. He expects to fetch up to $15,000 for this one.

    That was the second croc Heflick roped Tuesday. The first was more cooperative, although it jumped into a pool and dented a pole.

    "It's just kind of another day in the life type of thing for me," said Heflick, who travels the globe diving with great white sharks in South Africa and wrangling giant green anacondas in the Amazon.

    "It's not all glitz and glamour. I didn't lose an arm or some other appendage," he said Tuesday after roping the crocs. "I do like the excitement. I love being with the animals and handling the animals.

    "It's just like being a 7-year-old boy again running amok in the fields," said Heflick, who grew up on an Ohio farm.

    That first croc he examined is a male. Piper estimates it's worth about $3,000.

    "I'm pleased. It's always great to know that there is another sexual pair of American crocs which are protected in the United States and available for breeding," Heflick said.

    Heflick wants to confirm the crocs are native Floridians before making an offer. "Most people in the United States don't know we have a real crocodile in Florida," he said. "This family has been here long enough ... these could actually be the genetically pure Florida crocodile."

    Piper said he won't have any trouble selling his animals, crocodilian or otherwise. "We have animals that major zoos are already clamoring to get," he said. "We're just waiting to close."

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