Florida hunters have killed a 14-foot “once in a lifetime” alligator as part of this year’s hunting season in the James E. Daughtrey Wildlife Management Area.
A photo of the hunters posing alongside the dead alligator was posted on the wildlife management area’s Facebook page on September 17 after a four-day hunting event between September 12 and 16.
The reptile can be seen lying on the ground with its mouth propped open with what appears to be a stick. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department described the alligator as a male weighing 781 pounds, with a total length of 14 feet, 2.5 inches.
On average, male alligators tend to be around 11.2 feet long, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, an indication of the Texas gator’s large size.
The largest alligator ever caught was 15 feet, 9 inches and was caught by an Alabama woman, Mandy Stokes, in 2014. In terms of weight, it’s thought that some exceptionally large gators can reach around 1,000 pounds.
For centuries, alligators have lived in the swamps, marshes, rivers and lakes of the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern U.S., with an estimated population of around 5 million, according to the Defenders of Wildlife organization.
Historically, their numbers were depleted because of hunting and habitat loss, leading to the reptiles being listed as an endangered species in 1967. Populations started to recover, however, and in 1984 Texas began hunting wild alligators as part of a monitored program.
Alligators may be hunted for a variety of reasons. This includes hunting for commercial markets, such as the sale of their skins, and for population control. Critics, such as the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, say the hunting is cruel and causes undeniable suffering to the alligators that are captured and killed.
Populations are estimated through aerial surveys and counts, with a three-year average used to inform recommendations for each hunting season, Texas Parks and Wildlife said.
Generally, the core season occurs in September, although there may be differences between counties.
The Daughtrey wildlife management area, where the 14-foot alligator was killed, has more than 31,000 acres of generally flat terrain that mostly consists of open lakes. Hunters are required to possess a hunting license.
Under other restrictions, alligators can be caught only with a hook and line, and handguns and rifles are prohibited. Shotguns are permitted to kill secured alligators.
In response to the photo of the 14-foot alligator, one Facebook user congratulated the hunters “on a once-in-a-lifetime gator.”
Other photos showed multiple other alligators that had been killed, several of which were over 13 feet long.