Pets and pet owners in a central Florida neighborhood can breathe easier today after Tuesday night's capture of a massive alligator thought to be responsible for a spate of animal disappearances in the area.
Alligator trapper Jerry Flynn and his partner, nephew Billy Girard, were contacted Tuesday by the Sanford, Fla., Police Department about an 8-foot alligator spotted along the roadside near Lake Monroe, Fla., a hotbed for gator activity.
When Flynn arrived at the scene, it was immediately clear that the beast was much bigger than advertised — measuring 13 feet, 4 inches long and weighing more than 800 pounds.
Flynn and Girard, who last year combined to capture about 470 nuisance alligators and are among 40 or so trappers who work for the state of Florida, arrived at the swampy section of road and attempted to corral the animal. The gator charged them before turning to return to the swamp.
Wearing street clothes and armed with "bang sticks," specialized weapons used to shoot and kill animals under water, the trappers followed the target into the knee-deep swamp.
"We went into the swamp, right behind this 13-foot alligator," Flynn told ABC News. "In his territory."
Sanford police, who recently had taken numerous reports from residents about missing pets, directed traffic away from the scene as the trappers took four shots with the bang sticks. Two of them bounced off the gator's skull, Flynn said, and two fatally wounded the animal.
"We have to put him down because he poses a threat to the public," Flynn explained.
The animal was inches shy of Florida's all-time record for largest alligator trapped, a 14-foot beast captured in the same Lake Monroe area. Flynn also personally captured a 13-foot, 9-inch gator in a canal bordering the same central Florida lake.
More than 18,000 alligator nuisance complaints were filed in Florida last year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and 7,000 gators were removed by authorities.
While alligators have a reputation for attacking pets, they also occasionally attack humans. Since 1948, 275 unprovoked human attacks have been reported in Florida, with 17 resulting in death.
Less than two weeks ago, an 83-year-old woman in Savannah, Ga., bled to death from wounds she suffered in a gator attack. It was the first fatal alligator attack in that state since 1980. The 8-foot alligator was captured by resource officers and killed.
Monday, a Florida man was sentenced to die for a 1998 crime in which he left a 5-year-old girl in a section of the Florida Everglades known as "Alligator Alley." When the girl's body was found, her skull was crushed and an arm was missing.
Flynn, who will sell the alligator meat from the Tuesday night catch for about $5 a pound, said that most alligators are not interested in people. But most, he added, is not the same as all.
"You have to be aware of your surroundings," Flynn said. "There are alligators in the water. They're part of Florida."