for National Geographic News
Florida's crocodiles have stepped back from the brink of extinction, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The government agency, which administers the country's endangered species list, has reclassified the Florida population of the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) from "endangered" to "threatened."
Florida is the only U.S. state where the crocodiles are found.
The move means that the species is no longer in imminent danger of extinction in the United States but is still protected by federal law.
The nonprofit World Conservation Union lists the reptile as "vulnerable" throughout its range, which includes Central America, northern South America, and the Caribbean.
"In the past 30 years, we have made great strides in protecting this species and conserving its habitat," Sam D. Hamilton, USFWS's Southeast Regional Director, said in a statement announcing the decision.
But the croc is not out of danger, as its new "threatened" tag implies.
"The population has recovered sufficiently to make it more resilient to any kinds of threats that may occur, but it isn't immune from those threats," said Allan Woodward of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"Given that, the 'threatened' classification still provides protection for the population."
Room to Thrive
American crocodiles, which can reach 12.5 feet (3.8 meters) in length, are reclusive animals that haunt the sheltered waters of coastal mangrove swamps and bays, creeks, and inland freshwater swamps.
The reptiles resemble their close relative, the American alligator, which is not an endangered species and is common throughout the southeastern United States.
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