It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of one of Sanibel's most famous - and certainly most popular - year-round resident, the rare American crocodile known as "Wilma."
During more than a quarter of a century, the 11-foot, eight-inch saltwater croc roamed the island and passed through its many waterways, moving her home back and forth over the years but most commonly known for settling within the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
In fact, she was truly one of Sanibel's favorite tourist attractions - spotting her sunning herself along a watery bank on Wildlife Drive or snapping a picture of her as she crossed Sanibel-Captiva Road became the stuff of legend. Tourists came to see her, and residents respected and cared for her.
Wilma is now gone, but she will certainly not be forgotten. This afternoon at 3 p.m. on the porch in front of SCCF's Nature & Education Center (3333 Sanibel-Captiva Road), an informal memorial service will take place. Islanders are asked to come by not only to pay their respects to the lady crocodile, but to share their photos and stories of chance encounters with the revered reptile.
Over the years, we have heard many tales about the famous croc, but one of those stands out among the others. During his Tram Tours through the refuge, Tarpon Bay Explorers field guide Don Parsons would often tell a humorous story - some say fable - about Wilma.
According to the naturalist, rumor had it that once upon a time, a local residence - whose property borders the refuge - was paid a visit by the crocodile. The lady croc is said to have laid her infertile eggs (since there are no male crocodiles in the region) in her nest near the front walkway to the home.
One day, the newspaper was delivered to the house... but a little too close to the croc's nest. So the overprotective would-be mother picked up the newspaper with her mouth, placed it exactly outside the front door of the home, and walked back to her nest.
True or not, the tale is typical of the croc's legend.
We encourage our readers to take part in this truly unique Sanibel gathering, for a celebration of one of the most talked about island inhabitants - so rare, in fact, that it may never be witnessed in our waters again - is truly something special.
And so was Wilma.
- Reporter editorial