Two Florida hunters said they bagged a nearly 800-pound alligator that had been feasting on their farm cattle.
Lee Lightsey, who owns the hunting business Outwest Farms in Okeechobee, spotted the nearly 15-foot alligator over the weekend in a cattle pond while on a gator hunt with his guide, Blake Godwin, according to news reports.
"Although this animal is huge, I was not that surprised it existed," Lightsey told BBC News. "We have come across lots over the last 20 years that have been only a little smaller.
"But what really drew our attention to this animal was the fact that it seems to have been feasting on the cattle on my farm, because mutilated body parts were found in the water. It was a monster which needed to be removed."
Godwin told a Fox affiliate that the giant gator came to the surface about 20 feet in front of them and Lightsey shot it.
The alligator was so enormous, Godwin said, the hunters had to use a farm tractor to pull it from the cattle pond.
Lightsey calls himself a lifetime hunter who has been in the business for more than 18 years. After Saturday's kill, the group posted a picture on Facebook, saying it was "the largest gator we have ever killed in the wild!"
As attention on the alligator hunt spread, the group appeared to take down the post.
Lightsey's Outwest Farms supervises hunts for alligators, wild boar and Osceola Turkeys, according to the company's website. Prices are listed between $350 for bass fishing and $1,800 for a three-day turkey hunt.
Outwest Farms alligator kills range from $550 for a four- to five-foot gator and $10,000 for one larger than 13 feet.
The American alligator population in the United States "reached all-time lows in the 1950s, primarily due to market-hunting and habitat loss," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But in 1987, the alligator — a member of the crocodile family — "was pronounced fully recovered, making it one of the first endangered species success stories," according to the government.
Still, the American alligator is a federally protected species, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which notes:
Although the American alligator is secure, some related animals — such as several species of crocodiles and caimans — are still in trouble. For this reason, the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to protect the alligator under the ESA classification as “threatened due to similarity of appearance.” The Service thus regulates the harvest of alligators and legal trade in the animals, their skins, and products made from them, as part of efforts to prevent the illegal take and trafficking of endangered “look-alike” reptiles.
In Florida, the American alligator is listed as "a species of special concern," according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which notes that "state law prohibits killing, harassing or possessing alligators" — though the state does have three programs "for harvesting alligators from the wild."
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says that though alligators fall under federal protections, state-approved management and control programs permit those with proper licenses to take them.
Lightsey notes on Outwest Farms' website that he has been "commercially hunting alligators since they have been able to be harvested starting in 1988."
"Florida alligators can be taken year round with any weapon," he said. "Typically I hunt alligator with a rifle or bow from a swamp buggy on private property."
Outwest Farms did not respond to requests for comment.
Still, the recent catch drew mixed reactions from commenters on the group's Facebook page.
"Y'all have so much controversy on social media, half say it's fake other half think your (sic) animal murderers," one Facebook user wrote. "I say great job guys!"
The hunters plan to have the alligator stuffed for display, but will donate the meat to charity.
This story has been updated.