TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) — The legend of the lost lakes alligator is official.
At 13 feet 3 inches and nearly 1,400 pounds, the bull alligator Mike Cottingham and his crew captured in September in the lost lakes area below the dam at Millwood Lake is the largest alligator ever harvested in Arkansas.
"It's the largest individual alligator in the state and the largest to date to have been harvested in the sport hunt we've had since 2007," said Kelly J. Irwin, herpetologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which oversees the hunt to control the gator population.
The previous record was a 13-foot beast harvested in the lost lakes area in Hempstead County, Irwin said.
Cottingham's gator was so big that he and his crew of family and friends used a truck to estimate the weight of the reptile. They first weighed the truck, then weighed the vehicle again after placing the gator in the bed. The difference was 1,380 pounds.
The bones of Cottingham's alligator and the other gators harvested in the recent statewide hunt will be sent to Greg Erickson, assistant professor of anatomy and vertebrate paleobiology at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
"He will do bone analysis of the legs of the alligators we're sending him. It's like looking at tree rings to determine the ages of the alligators," Irwin said. "Generally, an alligator about 12 feet is usually 25 years old."
Cottingham's alligator is estimated to be between 30 and 35 years old, Irwin said.
The hunt that landed the record alligator began about 10 p.m. Sept. 14.
Cottingham, who annually applies for permits to hunt alligators, told the Texarkana Gazette (http://is.gd/fCSngI) he chose to hunt in the lost lakes after a friend told him about seeing a large reptile gliding through the area as he fished.
In Arkansas, the holder of an alligator hunting permit can have up to three people in his boat to help with the hunt. However, only the permit holder is allowed to capture and dispatch the animal.
Cottingham's team was son-in-law and "muscle man" Eric Gonzalez and friends Wes Boulden and Austin Robbins. Friend Gary Chambliss operated the trolling motor, and Cottingham's daughter, Cassie Gonzalez, kept up the team's spirit as cheerleader.
The crew hunted for the gator in a boat 18 feet long and 8 feet wide, which rocked violently as the team wrestled with the behemoth, Cottingham said.
Once the animal was under control, Cottingham dispatched it with a 12-gauge shotgun and No. 4 shot.
"It took 20 minutes to shoot him. He was pulling us everywhere and fighting us. He came up out of the water, and it was chaos," Cottingham said.
"We couldn't get him in the boat. We couldn't get him high enough to get in the boat. We had to tie him up on the side of the boat and then carry him to the boat ramp. We rolled him over into the boat when we got to the boat ramp and hauled him home."
Surveys statewide indicate a population of approximately 4,000 alligators in Arkansas. The animals range as far northwest as Petit Jean Wildlife Management area and as far northeast as the St. Francis River near Paragould.
"Alligators play an important role in wetland ecosystems. They help maintain a balance in wildlife populations, and their gator holes are refuges for fish and aquatic wildlife during droughts. Alligators do not threaten sport fish or wildlife," Irwin said. "They help maintain healthy populations by preying on sick or diseased animals."
"Alligators don't feed between October and March. They bask on warm fall and winter days, but they don't feed because they can't digest food at low temperatures."
Alligator populations are greatest in shallow, open marshes, swamps and river backwaters with plenty of aquatic plants.
"They don't like moving water and will get out of rivers," Irwin said.
He also said people can live safely with gators by using common sense and following a few guidelines, Irwin said.
"If an alligator is crossing a road, give it room to continue. The closer you get, the more likely the alligator is to stop. Keep your distance when watching alligators, and don't allow children or pets in or near water in alligator habitat. Dispose of fish entrails properly."
Information from: Texarkana Gazette,Tags: