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State wildlife official: 13-foot gator pulled from lake should not have been killed

ST. PETERSBURG — A 13-foot alligator trapped in a lake north of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve recently should not have been killed, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"The hunter got some misinformation from one of our officers," said Lt. Gary Morse of the FWC's field office in Lakeland. "The incident is currently under investigation. Our attorneys are discussing how to proceed."

Morse said Jovan Johannessen, a 34-year-old hunter from Clearwater, was issued a "countywide" alligator permit.

When Johannessen received his permit, he also received a 41-page "Training and Orientation" manual that clearly states that alligator trapping is prohibited in "incorporated cities and municipalities."

"Apparently he was told he could hunt there," Morse said. "But that was obviously not the case."

The training manual also informs prospective hunters: "It is highly recommended that you know specific locations where you can legally take alligators in a county prior to applying for a countywide permit."

Johannessen, whose catch was featured on local television stations, did not return a reporter's phone call.

"It's a shame that somebody can come in next to a nature preserve and harpoon an alligator," said George Heinrich, a local wildlife biologist who had been observing the gator some called "Big Al" for nearly 25 years. "That alligator got that big by avoiding people. It was not a nuisance."

The city of St. Petersburg also has an ordinance that prohibits hunting in city parks and preserves.

"I hope the FWC prosecutes this case under the full extent of the law," Mayor Bill Foster said. "We are looking into this as well. But unfortunately, the trophy is worth a lot more than any penalty that we can assess."

St. Petersburg police investigated the Sept. 25 incident after receiving a call from Peter Rubec, a marine biologist who lives across from the lake where the 13-foot alligator was captured.

"I was out walking my dog and I saw this guy in a harness hooked up to this large alligator that was struggling in the water," Rubec recalled. "I knew he wasn't supposed to be there so I called the police and the FWC."

Rubec, a self-professed environmentalist, said he was told the man had a permit.

"But I went over and talked to him anyway," he said. "He didn't like what I had to say."

Heinrich, a field biologist and environmental educator who has taught hundreds of children at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in his popular herpetology class, said there is no way to know how old the alligator was.

"But he was already 12 feet long when I first saw him in 1991," he said. "Alligators can grow to be 70 years old in captivity. They don't live that long in the wild, but I would guess it might have been 50 years old."

Jim House, a member of the board of directors of Friends of Boyd Hill, started an online petition Monday morning calling for Johannessen to be prosecuted. He also said new laws should be passed that increase the punishments.

"This guy should go to jail," House said. "And that's not going to happen. That's very frustrating. … That gator could have lived another 25 years. He was very much a part of the park. We were really proud of him."

State wildlife official: 13-foot gator pulled from lake should not have been killed 09/30/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 30, 2013 10:30pm]
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