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Nearly 12-foot-long alligator caught near downtown St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — The massive alligator had lived in the neighborhood near downtown for years.

It lurked in the culverts and was occasionally seen by residents. There were reports it ate dogs. People who caught a glimpse of it now and again would throw food its way. Whenever wildlife officials tried to pick it up, it slithered away and found a new hiding spot.

On Wednesday evening, the nearly 12-foot-long creature — which had become such a nuisance that authorities issued a permit to allow a trapper to shoot it dead — finally lost its freedom.

"We've been working on him for a few years," said trapper Charles Carpenter, who saw the gator shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday in a culvert near a shopping plaza on Fourth Street S near 13th Avenue S. "It went a little smoother than I expected."

A large crowd of spectators watched as he, along with a handful of St. Petersburg police officers, lured the animal out of the water with chicken.

Once it was on land, they snared it with ropes, covered its head with a towel and shoved it up a ramp and into the back of a trailer.

The crowd surged forward after the large reptile was secured. They fired questions at Carpenter as if he was presiding over a zoo exhibit. They snapped photos with their cell phones and made jokes about alligator meat.

Manaleek Mouzon came to watch for a different reason. The 16-year-old, who lives nearby, believes the alligator ate the family dog some time ago.

"I'm just glad they caught it before it got out of control," Mouzon said.

The alligator measured 11 foot 7 inches, Carpenter said.

Officers estimated that it weighed about 500 pounds, though Carpenter said it was impossible to immediately know its weight or age.

The last reported sighting of the reptile was in July at a culvert near Tony's Meat Market at 1209 Fourth St. S.

That's the same place Carpenter found the alligator Tuesday night after getting reports that people were feeding it.

The alligator eluded him again.

Carpenter went back to the spot Wednesday, hoping the alligator would be back and he'd be able to capture it without much notice.

"That didn't last long," he said. "It went from nobody watching to 20 in about three minutes."

The alligator will be taken to a facility in Dade City and destroyed, Carpenter said.

Officials said when an alligator grows longer than 4 feet and is fed by people and loses its fear of humans, it becomes a nuisance and generally can't be relocated.

"(Relocation) is not an option for us," said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "They're a nuisance no matter where you put them. People shouldn't be feeding wildlife, and if they are, they're almost always signing (the animal's) death warrant."

With a crowd watching, an 11-foot-7, 500-pound alligator is trapped on Fourth Street S at 13th Avenue S in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. The gator, which had lurked around the neighborhood for years, was lured out with chicken.

DIRK SHADD | Times

With a crowd watching, an 11-foot-7, 500-pound alligator is trapped on Fourth Street S at 13th Avenue S in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. The gator, which had lurked around the neighborhood for years, was lured out with chicken.

Nearly 12-foot-long alligator caught near downtown St. Petersburg 09/22/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 23, 2010 12:01am]

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