Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay small businesses give Tampa B+ for regulatory climate


    In a recent survey about small business sentiments toward state and local government policies that affect them, Tampa Bay ranked at No. 25 out of 80 — a B+ overall.

    Tampa Bay ranked No. 25 out of 80 in a recent survey about how small business owners feel about state and local government policies that affect them. | [Times file photo]
  2. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help


    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  3. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers


    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem


    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  5. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.