Brookfield’s Carlita and Buttercup, two female Orinoco crocodiles popular at the zoo are now living their best lives in sunny Florida.

The crocodiles, a critically endangered species of crocodile native to the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and Colombia, have been transferred from Brookfield’s Swamp exhibit to the Crocodile Conservation Center of Florida. The center houses endangered species like these crocodiles that are managed in captivity through one of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums members. Brookfield Zoo is one of them. According to reports, Carlita and Buttercup have acclimated nicely to their new place in Florida. 

The pair spent about 11 years at Brookfield Zoo’s Swamp exhibit before being returned to the Crocodile Conservation Center of Florida. They are now under the care of alligator and crocodile professionals John Brown and Bruce Shwedick in Myakka City, Florida, while CCCF’s permanent facility is being completed. CCCF has assisted Dallas World Aquarium’s Crocodile Conservation Program for Orinoco crocodiles for many years–the same facility where Carlita and Buttercup hatched.

Carlita and Buttercup were loaned to Brookfield Zoo in 2012 after being hatched in Dallas in March 2008. Carlita’s personal blog, Candid Croc, informed guests about climate change’s effects and conservation efforts toward endangered species.

They were relocated south based on the recommendation of the Species Survival Plan, a population management and conservation program designed to cultivate a diverse and demographically viable animal population. 

Zoos like Brookfield work with the SSP program to best aid the endangered species under their care. 

Under this program, transfers can happen for a variety of reasons – even if the animal is the public’s favorite – including for breeding or returning them to the wild to boost populations.

The Orinoco crocodiles are one of several animals the zoo has worked with. Of the 125 species outlined in the SSP program, Brookfield Zoo shelters 45.

For example, Brookfield Zoo recently sent all but one from a litter of Mexican Grey Wolf pups to be cross-fostered by a den of wild wolves in New Mexico. By transferring the litter of wolf pups, Brookfield Zoo may help enrich the genetic diversity of the native wild population. 

Many of Carlita and Buttercup’s siblings have been returned to Venezuela. Shwedick said a sister of the Crocs has successfully laid eggs in the wild. They hope that Carlita and Buttercup are soon provided with a mate so their offspring will “one day, also become a part of the recovery of this critically endangered species,” he said.

With their part of the Swamp vacant, Brookfield has plans to renovate the enclosure over the winter to transform it into one large aviary.  

“This will enhance the habitat for the birds and allow us to increase their flock sizes to allow for more natural behaviors and social structures,” Snyder said, adding that it’s aimed at creating an enhanced experience for zoo guests.