ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the death an enormous alligator on the banks of a St. Petersburg lake last week.
"I've been watching it for about 21 years," explained biologist George Heinrich. "[It was] our largest alligator."
Heinrich recognized the gator around Lake Maggiore, typically in a smaller lake nearby. The scars and shapes on its head were unique.
Many knew the gator by the name "Big Al".
A regular sighting for visitors at nearby Boyd Hill Nature Park, Big Al drew attention for his size. The same reason a hunter recently decided to kill him.
Jovan Johannessen of Clearwater refused an on-camera interview with ABC Action News, but made several comments over the phone. He says he hunted the gator for about 3 months, researching its habits and location, until he finally tracked it down last week.
Though he holds a permit to kill alligators, it is illegal to hunt on properties incorporated in cities.
"It made the community sick. It made me sick," explained St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster. "An incredible creature that just minded its own business for the past 50 years."
Mayor Foster fielded complaints about the gator long before he saw a petition asking for his help. He contacted FWC to remind them of city ordinances.
"We don't authorize the hunting of any wildlife in the city of St. Petersburg," he said.
Mayor Foster has asked Police Chief Chuck Harmon to look into filing some kind of citation.
FWC admits, one of their officers made a mistake, telling Johannessen the kill would be legal. They refrained from commenting except to say they're investigating the incident and plan to take appropriate action.
"It is the responsibility of the hunter to read their permit," said FWC Spokesperson Gary Morse.
"He's been stalking it for 3 months," Heinrich said." He had plenty of time to read his license."
According to FWC, they'd received complaints about Big Al approaching people, and may have called a trapper to kill the gator in the near future, anyway.
Regulars at Boyd Hill Nature Park, however, describe the gator as fearful of people. They are saddened and angered by the gator's death.
"This alligator was not aggressive at all," Heinrich said. "It's shocking to me that somebody would have the audacity to come adjacent to a natural area and poach out a large alligator."
Mayor Foster plans to have the city erect more signs to remind people that hunting is illegal. As for Johannessen, officials at Boyd Hill Nature Park hope for action that sets a precedent.
"[So that] people understand this is not a lake people can hunt in," explained Boyd Hill Supervisor Barbara Stalbird.
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